State probes discrimination complaint against Lenox girls camp
LENOX -- The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination has launched an active investigation into a complaint that a learning-disabled girl was denied admission to Belvoir Terrace, a prestigious, girls-only performing arts and sports camp.
The commission has determined that it has jurisdiction in the case involving the private camp, said Keith Healey, the administrative assistant to Commissioner Jamie Williamson, a former Pittsfield city councilor. The complaint was filed five weeks ago by J.B. Harris, a Florida attorney whose daughter was not accepted into the camp's summer session.
"Victoria has been going to music and art as well as sleep-away camps since she was 8," J.B. Harris said in a phone interview. "In my opinion, what the camp directors did was outrageous and broke my daughter's heart. I'm not going to take this lying down."
In his complaint, Harris asserted that his daughter, 15, is "fully capable of functioning at the highest level in swimming, dancing and horseback riding." Her name is being withheld at the request of her mother, Susan A. Harris.
Harris listed his daughter's disabilities, including dyslexia, ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) and the "possibility of a co-existent nonverbal learning disability."
He said his daughter is a student at a public performing-arts "magnet school" in the Miami vicinity. She has also attended a summer camp and two-day camps, participates in the Girl Scouts, a local temple's youth group and a community basketball program, Harris said.
Harris based his complaint on Massachusetts general law extending civil-rights protection to individuals with "any physical or mental disability" seeking admission to "any place of public accommodation, resort or amusement." He also stated that the camp's denial of admission to his daughter violates federal law, specifically the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Belvoir Terrace, founded 60 years ago, is under the second and third-generation family ownership of the co-directors.
According to commission procedure, the camp's co-owners, Nancy Goldberg and Diane Goldberg-Marcus, have 21 days to respond in writing, "as fully as possible," to the complaint, served on them by mail, Healey told The Eagle on Monday. Harris then could file a rebuttal.
After their response is received, Healey said, an hearing officer would review the case, "compare and contrast and then issue a recommendation," followed by a final ruling.
In an interview with The Eagle, Belvoir Terrace co-owner Nancy Goldberg said the applicant was not admitted following a 40-minute interview via Skype because the camp "would not be appropriate for her."
Goldberg stated that the girl's mother had agreed with the camp's decision in a separate phone discussion.
In a phone interview, Susan A. Harris said that although she disagrees with the camp's decision, "if the camp didn't want my daughter, I didn't want her to be part of the camp."
She added that she doesn't support filing the anti-discrimination complaint since her priority is to move on and find another camp for her daughter.
"I think Nancy Goldberg appeared to be a very wonderful, understanding, capable director, an incredibly caring person with insight into people and children," Susan Harris said. "I don't see any malicious side to her. I think the world of Nancy. In my mind, she was someone who made some mistakes, she should not have led us on the way she did."
In his complaint, attorney Harris asserted that after filing an Internet application for his daughter last month, he had been assured by Goldberg that his daughter "would be a perfect candidate for a summer experience at Belvoir Terrace."
Harris contended that she had encouraged an application but had not indicated that a screening interview would be required as a prerequisite for admission "or to determine whether she would fit in with the crowd."
On March 29, Harris wrote, he and his wife explained to Goldberg that their daughter "suffers from learning disabilities affecting her ability to read and would require a reading tutor. Ms. Goldberg responded that one would be provided."
Harris's complaint details a March 31 phone call from Nancy Goldberg rejecting his daughter's application, based on the Skype interview. "During this conversation," Harris wrote, "Ms. Goldberg repeatedly claimed that she would not fit in with the other girls."
According to Goldberg, Belvoir Terrace has other learning-disabled campers, "but they have to be able to get along with other girls. ... We didn't feel this would be safe or appropriate for this girl."
"We don't want to take their money, we don't want to take girls who aren't going to do well, to be happy and successful," she continued. "We don't want situations where they're not successful and have to be sent home."
Describing her camp's mission, Goldberg declared: "We're interested in empowering women and making them successful. For this child, it definitely would not have been a good fit."
"We have many learning-disabled kids," added co-director Diane Goldberg-Marcus. "If we don't feel she would enjoy the environment, that we can offer classes and programming that would be worthwhile for her, and if we feel we don't have a group of girls she would mix with, it doesn't work."
Representing Belvoir Terrace is attorney Michael Mazurczak of the Melick and Porter firm in Boston. His colleague, Robert Powers, told The Eagle on Monday there would be no immediate comment since the firm had just become involved in the case.
The American Camp Association states that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires privately run recreational programs to offer individuals with disabilities "mainstream access to programs."
The association's guidelines note that "this can be a delicate area for day and resident camps, outdoor program centers ... and outdoor adventure education programs."
To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto
At a Glance ...
What: Belvoir Terrace, a summer visual and performing arts camp for girls in Grades 2-10, offering programs in art, music, theater, dance and sports, plus special events.
Where: 80 Cliffwood Street, Lenox, headquartered in an 1890 mansion with separate dorms, a theater, tennis courts and other facilities.
Ownership: Founded in 1954 by Edna Schwartz, co-owned by her daughter Nancy Goldberg and granddaughter Diane Goldberg-Marcus.
Campers: 160 during the six-week summer program.
Staff: About 90.
Scholarships: About 25 per summer; last year's total $180,000.
Source: www.belvoirterrace.com; co-owners Nancy Goldberg and Diane Goldberg-Marcus.