Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Summer School by the Pool

It was the teacher.

Well, certainly not entirely the teacher's fault, because as we are all taught, there are indeed several sides to a story. But in the never-ending story about the Valley Swim Club in suburban Philadelphia, which found itself in the midst of a national news firestorm earlier this summer after a nearby day camp alleged racial discrimination, we've now learned a key fact missing in the heated days of July when the story broke.

I wrote about this case on two occasions: here and here. And as I wrote previously, I know this Club and I know it well.

To recap: the saga began on June 29 when kids from Creative Steps Day Camp (the number of kids was originally 65, now it is down to 56) arrived at the suburban Valley Swim Club. It was to be their first of several weekly excursions to the club for 90 minutes of swimming and recreation. The Club was certainly expecting them, having contracted with the camp and (presumingly) cashed their nearly $2,000 check.

But what happened when the campers arrived depends on who you talk to. Or, who you believe. What is consistent, however, is that someone heard someone say something to the effect of "What are all these black kids doing here?"

And then campers were told not to return, public relations bungling and mis-steps abounded, and the psychologically scarred campers involved enjoyed a summer of extravagant outings, including a fully-paid trip to Disney World courtesy of some publicity-starved artist musician whose name I don't even remember and don't want to bother looking up.

Today we learn that the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission determined that the Club acted with racial bias regarding this incident, and, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, is "ordered ... to pay a $50,000 civil penalty for discrimination against one child, whose parents filed the complaint. The child, whose name was withheld ... reported hearing racial comments after the group arrived at the club June 29....The report also orders Valley Club to pay other damages, including reimbursing the parent who filed the complaint for all related expenses."

Now, make no mistake about it. A remark like "what are all these black kids doing here?" is hurtful, disrespectful and unconscionable anywhere in America, in 2009, on the cusp of us having elected our first African American President of the United States. Nobody disputes this.

And nobody came forth to admit to saying this.

Until today.

And here, boys and girls, we learn one of our many lessons of this case.

One of the people reportedly making the remark is a teacher who recognized one of the campers from her school. Again, from a separate story in today's The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Almost immediately, campers reported that they heard white members make disparaging racial remarks about them.

"What are all these black kids doing here?" asked one of the members, who was identified in the affidavit as Michelle Flynn, a teacher at Laura H. Carnell Elementary School on Devereaux Avenue in Philadelphia.

A camper had also identified Flynn as one of his teachers during the school year and told a camp counselor.
It gets better, and the proof is in the email. (Another lesson, boys and girls: never put anything in an email that you wouldn't want on the front page of the newspaper.)

Flynn, complained that they weren't given prior notice about the campers' arrival and that their presence posed a risk.

" . . . [S]ince 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," she wrote in an e-mail to Duesler [the Valley Club's president] the same day.
Um ... excuse me?! You don't want your child going to the bathroom while the African American kids are in the vicinity?! Flynn might as well demanded to see a sign indicating COLORED on the bathroom the next time she visited the pool.

I mean, someone nominate this woman for Teacher of the Year already.

The very fact that this statement was uttered at all (and I had my doubts initially that it was, but now it seems as if at least one person likely did say such things) is sad enough. But to me, the fact that this is being attributed to a teacher is even more appalling. We'd like to think, I'd like to think, that the people who are teaching your kids, my kids, are more grown up than that, are a little more educated. If this the mindset teaching our kids, in the beleaguered Philadelphia public school system no less, than we are screwed. There is no hope, really.

I'll take this a step further and pose this: I am willing to bet (say, a random amount of $50,000) that there is some prior history, some bad blood, between Ms. Flynn and the kid who allegedly, reportedly heard someone say, "What are all these black kids doing here?" It's too coincidental for me that a kid from the school and the teacher (who is involved with recruiting members for the Valley Club) were both there when this all went down.

In the meantime, it's a new school year, a new fall. But the poolside summer school lessons linger, teaching us new lessons each day.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Oh you just know it's personal between that teacher and that kid, and now it's a big giant deal (not that it wouldn't be, but it should be a different kind of big giant deal.)