Swim club offers olive branch after racism allegations

Some kids from the Creative Steps Day Care center say club members made racial remarks.
A suburban Philadelphia swim club has invited children from a largely minority day-care center to come back after a June reversal that fueled allegations of racism against the club, a spokeswoman said Sunday.

The development came during a hastily called Sunday afternoon meeting of the Valley Club in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania. Club members voted overwhelmingly to try to work things out with the day-care center, which accused some swim club members of making racist comments to black and Hispanic children contracted to use the pool, said Bernice Duesler, the club director’s wife. Duesler said the club canceled its contract with the Creative Steps day-care because of safety, crowding and noise concerns, not racism. “As long as we can work out safety issues, we’d like to have them back,” she told CNN. She said the club has been subpoenaed by the state Human Rights Commission, which has begun a fact-finding investigation, “and the legal advice was to try to get together with these camps, ” Duesler added. Alethea Wright, Creative Steps’ director, said, “They should have done that before.” Wright has repeatedly lambasted the club for its tepid response to the charges and said the children in her care were “emotionally damaged” by the incident. “These children are scarred. How can I take those children back there” she said. However, Wright’s lawyer, Carolyn Nicholas, said the center will give the Valley Club’s offer “due consideration” once it is received and looks forward to sitting down with the parties. “The children are our primary concern,” Nicholas told CNN. Swimming privileges for about 65 children from Creative Steps were revoked after their first visit June 29. Some children said white members of the club made racist comments to the children, asking why “black children were there” and raising concerns that “they might steal from us.” Days later, the day-care center’s $1,950 check was returned, Wright said. Club director John Duesler told CNN that he had underestimated the amount of children who would participate, and the club was unable to supervise that many kids. He called his club “very diverse,” and said it had offered to let day camps in the Philadelphia area use his facility after budget cuts forced some pools in the area to close. Wright has rejected the camp’s contention that the swim club’s pool was overcrowded. The club had accepted a 10-to-1 ratio of children to adults and was considering adding up to three lifeguards, according to e-mails obtained by CNN. But John Duesler said last week that the Valley Club also canceled contracts with two other day-care centers because of safety and overcrowding issues. The Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission launched an investigation last week after allegations of racism at the Valley Club. The commission said that as part of any investigation, the two sides eventually could be asked to sit down face-to-face with its investigators. “We always encourage opposing parties to communicate with one another if they feel they can resolve these issues amicably,” Commission Chairman Stephen Glassman said.

Bernice Duesler said she wasn’t yet sure how the club will “reach out” to Creative Steps and the other two camps. And Wright said she still has concerns about the issue. “Are the members who made those comments still there” she asked.