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PA Pool Controversy Points to Problems with 'Private Clubs'

July 14, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - Pennsylvania's swim club controversy, splashed all over the headlines in recent days, is still not settled and it's also raising some bigger-picture issues, such as what rights a 'private' club has, and how where people live affects their feelings about race.

The suburban Philadelphia Valley Swim Club came under fire after sending away a group of minority students from a summer camp, after earlier agreeing to let them use its facilities. Mary Catherine Roper, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, says 'private' clubs aren't always private when it comes to who they choose to let in and who they don't.

"You have to have membership criteria, you have to have a membership process. It can't be just, 'We let in anyone who isn't black.'"

Roper says ultimately, justice in the case may be decided by the parents of the children involved.

"What this comes down to is what the parents want and what the parents feel their children need in order to feel that they won some respect, because that's what was taken away from them."

Roper says underneath layers of outrage over what happened, there may be a lesson about how where we live and who we live among, can affect our views on others.

"If this incident can get people realizing how much their isolation affects their social views, that would be a huge step forward."

The Valley Swim Club says its decision to send the kids away was based on safety concerns in the pool, not racism, but some of the 60 kids in the summer camp group claim to have heard racist remarks upon their arrival. The Club voted to invite the children back, but camp organizers and parents rejected the invitation. They say they plan to file a discrimination lawsuit later this month.

Tom Joseph, Public News Service - PA