Deaf girl's family sues after Girl Scout troop disbanded

August 2, 2012 (SCHAUMBURG, Ill.)

A suburban girl who has been deaf since birth is at the center of a legal battle with the Girl Scouts. Megan Runnion's family is suing the organization for disbanding the Girl Scout troop in their community.

For children who are hard of hearing, balancing activities with hearing children is part of their social development. For a Schaumburg girl, the Girl Scouts was that outlet. But her mother alleges changes made by the Girl Scout council prevent her from participating in the scouts.

Edie Runnion has great memories of watching her hard-of-hearing daughter thrive in Girl Scouts.

"Megan loves camping. That's her favorite Girl Scout thing," Edie Runnion said.

Megan Runnion, now 12, had been in scouts for six years with an interpreter during scout activities. Her mother says the scouts council asked her family to now pay for most of the cost of the interpreter and put restrictions on troop activities to accommodate Runnion's abilities, restrictions that ultimately caused the troop leaders to disband the troop.

Edie Runnion is filing a lawsuit alleging discrimination and retaliation by the Girl Scout Council of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana.

"It's sad. The initial reaction is shocked, because I didn't really understand it," said Edie Runnion.

The council's spokeswoman would not comment on details of Runnion's case but says the founder of girl scouting was hard of hearing and the Girl Scouts have a long history of inclusion.

"Our membership does include girls who have hearing loss and other disabilities," said Julie Somogyi, Girl Scout Council of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana. "And in those situations we do work with those girls and those troops and those families to provide what they need to access girl scouting."

One of the attorneys working on Runnion's case is Rachel Arfa. She was a deaf girl scout in the 1980s.

Arfa hopes Runnion will have the opportunity to continue with Girl Scouts in a way in which she can fully participate.

"To be able to have the access to social opportunity-- these are the skills that make us who we are," said Arfa. "They teach us how to interact with people, how to talk to each other. These are the things we can't learn any other way."

The Girl Scouts Council just received the complaint Thursday. Their spokeswoman says they looking into the allegations.

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