The story of inner city black kids being turned away from an all-white suburban swim club seemed to turn on the words of two women, according to the findings of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. Both are members of the private club. Both teach at the very same school some of the children attend. And now both are the target of a Philadelphia mom who says the teachers "assassinated" her son's character.
"I'm going after them!" Christine Pembleton said Wednesday.
At the pool that June day and in a state report, Pembleton claims the teachers said her 12-year old was "basically a thief" and she promised to go after them for slander.
According to the PHRC's report, when the kids came in June for their first swim date at the Valley Swim Club, one of the campers overheard a woman, who is white, say, "What are all these black kids doing here? I am scared they might do something to my child."
That camper told another camper who recognized the woman as a teacher at his school -- Laura H. Carnell Elementary -- which was also home to the Creative Steps Day Camp.
The kids alerted their camp director who went directly over to swim club president, John Duesler, with the allegation. While Duesler was reassuring the camp director, the teacher approached and there was a "heated conversation" between camp director Alethea Wright and the teacher, according to the report.
The teacher denied saying anything offensive, but said she was concerned because one of the kids was a known thief who'd stolen a cell phone, according to the report. The PHRC report says another camper later heard the teacher/club member say, "Why are these black kids here? I am afraid they might do something to my child and they might steal some of my stuff."
The club's assistant manager heard her say, "I am pissed that they are here, this is my swim club," according to the agency's investigation.
A day camp counselor said another Valley Swim Club member, also a teacher at the same school, came up to him and said, "What time won't I be going to the Valley Club on Mondays?"
That night, the first teacher named in state report allegedly sent an email to club members saying she was "very upset" when the campers came to the pool. It's a community pool but "this is not the community where these kids live," and that she was particularly annoyed because members didn't get any notice ahead of time "…since I personally know some of these kids because I teach at their school and I have seen first hand what at least one of these children is capable of I don't feel comfortable with my children even going to the bathroom during this time…Thank you for your time and I needed to write something because I felt I was being treated as if because the kids were African American it was an issue. That could not be further than the truth."
"I'm a little bit confused because she was good enough to teach these same children but these children were not good enough to swim with her and her children?" said Pembleton. "I'm outraged."
Pembelton held a rally outside Carnell Elementary Wednesday night as parents entered the building for a back-to-school night. Some were surprised to hear about the allegations and others were glad someone was taking a stand.
Efforts to speak with both teachers named in the report were unsuccessful. The Philadelphia School District said it does not condone any statements which may cause harm to students. Officials plan to administer multicultural sensitivity training to all teachers in the district in light of the incident.