Scoutmaster John notices three Tenderfoot Scouts Liam, Ethan and Aiden across the room huddled around Assistant Scoutmaster Mark at a recent troop meeting, each with a rope in hand. They’re working on Second Class requirement 2g., tying a bowline and describing when to use it.

Liam and Ethan enthusiastically craft the knot while Aiden, head down, fumbles his way through part of the knot before looking up, frustrated. Assistant Scoutmaster Mark quickly inspects Liam and Ethan’s bowline knots.

“Looks good, boys!” he says. “Hand me your books.”

All three Scouts give their adult leader their handbooks. Out comes the pen, and the assistant Scoutmaster signs off the requirement in all three books and hands them back. Then, the Scouts get up and join their friends who are playing a game.

“Wait a minute!” Scoutmaster John thinks. “None of those Scouts fulfilled that requirement. And now they all have it signed off in their books!”

It isn’t the first time he’s seen Liam, Ethan and Aiden get a quick signature from Assistant Scoutmaster Mark. At last weekend’s campout, he saw them pick a campsite for their patrol, but did not discuss and explain why it was a good spot to their leader, and still got Second Class requirement 1c. signed off.

The question

Should Scoutmaster John confront the Scouts about not finishing requirements? Should he retest them himself?

The expert’s response

We asked Mike LoVecchio, BSA advancement specialist, about such a situation and he pointed to the Guide to Advancement, Section

Once a Scout has been tested and signed off by someone approved to do so, the requirement has been met. 

Scoutmaster John had previously told the troop that Assistant Scoutmaster Mark can sign off on requirements. The unit leader authorizes who may test Scouts; this can include assistant unit leaders, patrol leaders, the senior patrol leader and other Scouts.

So, Assistant Scoutmaster Mark has the authority to sign off per the Scoutmaster, but Scoutmaster John believes he still shouldn’t have signed off on the requirements in question. Can the Scoutmaster overrule his assistant’s signature and require that the Scouts be retested?

No, again, let’s refer to the Guide to Advancement:

If a unit leader believes a Scout has not learned the subject matter for a requirement that has been signed off, he or she should see that opportunities are made available for the Scout to practice or teach the requirement. Thus the Scout may complete their learning and further develop the related skills.

Learning a new skill should not condensed into a one-time event. For many of us, it requires research and practice. In this scenario, Aiden obviously has not practiced or researched enough to master tying the bowline, and while Liam and Ethan tied the knot correctly, they didn’t explain when to use it. The answer isn’t in revoking the assistant Scoutmaster’s signature, but ensuring the Scouts learn and understand the skill.

Someone with a quick draw?

What should be done about Assistant Scoutmaster Mark and his improper way of signing off on requirements?

Ultimately, it’s the unit leader’s responsibility to make sure proper advancement procedures are being followed. Part of this responsibility includes carefully choosing who approves advancement and ensuring they’re properly trained. If something isn’t right, that doesn’t mean the unit leader is powerless.

“If an individual authorized to sign off on rank requirements is not properly fulfilling that responsibility (requirements must be completed as written), the unit leader should either revoke that authorization or ensure that individual is properly trained in advancement policies and procedures,” LoVecchio says.

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