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Newsday (New York)
Huntington officials found a way for special-needs campers enrolled in the town's Camp Bright Star program to go swimming, addressing the concerns of parents who said their children were being discriminated against when they learned the activity wouldn't be available this summer.
"We have to make sure that all of our kids have the same opportunities," Councilwoman Tracey Edwards said. "Inclusion, and ensuring that all kids have the same opportunities, is extremely important to me. It was a nonstarter for us to not be able to accommodate all of our kids."
Camp Bright Star will allow special-needs children to use the pool at the Huntington YMCA twice a week, reversing a prior message from the town Parks Department, Edwards said Thursday.
"I'm happy that they are rectifying the problem," said Laura Pecorella, a Huntington parent of a special-needs child. "It is a win. It's a win for all the other families."
For years, Camp Bright Star has offered its campers swimming twice a week, but town officials learned on or around May 15 that the Half Hollow Hills Schools pool usually reserved for campers would be closed for summer maintenance, said A.J. Carter, a spokesman for Town Supervisor Frank Petrone.
Carter had previously said town officials had pursued all possible alternatives for the children, to no avail. He declined to provide further details.
Other parents, including Gloria Thurer, of Melville, said they felt angry the town waited until last week to notify them about the change, particularly since the town's Adventure Camp, which serves children without special needs and is the only other town-backed camp offering swimming, would continue to provide those children pool access in Dix Hills.
"I feel the typical child is going to get the advantage, is going to have more priority, more access to swimming as opposed to a child with special needs," Thurer said last week before Edwards negotiated a solution with the YMCA.
The letter to parents, postmarked to Thurer on June 8, said the town would provide a soccer program and other activities and trips instead of swimming. Dissatisfied parents were told they could get their money back, Carter said.
"Should the notice of the parents have come a little earlier? Probably," Carter said. "But the town was trying to pursue every alternative."
Thurer's daughter Alana, 19, has Down syndrome, and she had been dreading — and delaying — telling her that one of her favorite camp activities was unavailable this summer.
Edwards, a Democrat who is running for town supervisor, learned about the issue Tuesday through an inquiry by Newsday.
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