The Creative Steps camp in northeast Philadelphia had contracted for the 65 children at the day camp to go each Monday afternoon to The Valley Club in Huntingdon Valley, camp director Alethea Wright said Thursday. But shortly after they arrived June 29, she said, some black and Hispanic children reported hearing racial comments.
"A couple of the children ran down saying, 'Miss Wright, Miss Wright, they're up there saying, 'What are those black kids doing here?"'
Wright said she went to talk to a group of members at the top of the hill and heard one woman say she would see to it that the group, made of up of children around ages 5 to 13, did not return.
"Some of the members began pulling their children out of the pool and were standing around with their arms folded," Wright said. "Only three members left their children in the pool with us."
Several days later, the club refunded the camp's $1,950 without explanation, said Wright, who added that some parents are "weighing their options" on legal action.
The swim club denied any racial discrimination. In a statement posted on its Web site Thursday afternoon, The Valley Club said it doesn't have the capacity to deal with outside groups and returned funds to more than one camp.
The club called its membership diverse and said any comments that may or may not have been made by members were not shared by its board.
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission will immediately investigate, chairman Stephen A. Glassman said Thursday.
"Allegedly, this group was denied the use of a pool based on their race," Glassman said. "If the allegations prove to be true, this is illegal discrimination in Pennsylvania."
The investigation was requested by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The state NAACP president, J. Whyatt Mondesire, who serves on the Human Relations Commission, said in the statement that the commission can hold the club accountable if it is found to have discriminated against the campers.
"The law simply does not allow discrimination based on race," he said.
Sen. Arlen Specter issued a statement calling the allegations "extremely disturbing" and said he was looking into the matter.
Club president John Duesler told Philadelphia television station WTXF that several club members complained because the children "fundamentally changed the atmosphere" at the pool, but that the complaints didn't involve race.
The gated club appeared closed Thursday afternoon, and the guard station at the entrance was unattended.
A club member told a newspaper that she understood the problem was the size of the group, not race. But Wright rejected that explanation, saying the club covers 10 acres with a "nice-sized" pool and a separate pool for younger children. The board, she said, knew that her group included 65 children, and none of them had misbehaved.
"We were not welcome, once the members saw who we were," she said.
Wright said that the children were upset, and that she was looking for a psychologist to speak to them next week. Some have asked her whether they are "too dark" to swim in the pool, she said.
"I'm not going to validate this behavior by adults," Wright said. "It's unacceptable. This is preposterous, and I won't stand for it."
Wright said Girard College has offered to host the children for the summer.