A deaf former Girl Scout from Schaumburg and her mother have filed a federal lawsuit claiming the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana first withdrew the services of a sign language interpreter and later -- when the family insisted on one -- disbanded the girl's troop altogether.
The suit states that 12-year-old Megan Runnion joined the Girl Scouts when she was in kindergarten. For six years, a sign language interpreter was provided for troop meetings and outings, but this ceased at the start of the 2011-12 school year.
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The lawsuit claims that Runnion's mother, Edie Runnion, made multiple requests for the interpreter services to be reinstated but was told in January that the troop was disbanding due to her requests.
The Runnions are seeking a declaratory judgment that the Girl Scouts' actions violated Megan's rights. They also want new written policies requiring auxiliary aids and services for deaf members, compensatory damages and reimbursement of legal fees.
Julie Somogyi, director of integrated marketing and communications for the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana, released a statement in response to the lawsuit.
"Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana values the diversity of its membership and welcomes all girls who wish to be members," the statement reads. "Girl Scouts has a long history of adapting activities for girls who have special needs, including those who have physical or developmental disabilities. In fact, our founder, Juliette Gordon Low, was hearing impaired. … With knowledge of individual girl requirements, our council attempts to reasonably accommodate girls with disabilities, especially for council-sponsored events and special programs for girls."
Because the case is currently under review, Somogyi said, the organization was unable to answer specific questions about the lawsuit's claims.
The Runnions and their attorneys could not be reached for comment Thursday.
But their lawsuit cites what it says is a recently adopted policy of the Girl Scouts that individuals with special needs may claim $50 per month for assistance -- though this would not cover even one meeting or event in Megan's case. The suit states that this policy has a further council-wide maximum of $5,000 per month, regardless of the number and nature of individual requests.