But the executive director of Dundee Township Park District, which manages the pool, says the teens were targeted for breaking the rules, not because of their race.
On Aug. 9, 35 children from the YWCA's Teen Reach program took a field trip to the Carpentersville pool. About 30 of the children, ages 12 to 17, were black, and 27 them were boys, according to India Smith, a youth services director whose son is in the program.
Once the group was in the pool, she says, four white lifeguards joined three white lifeguards already stationed nearby and swarmed around the kids. Some repeatedly blew their whistles at them for no apparent reason and seemingly at every move the kids made, Smith said. Two security guards also arrived on the scene, and another lifeguard got into a verbal altercation with one of the boys, she said.
"It became as though the kids were on display because the lifeguards are all on our side where we're swimming and now the security is standing along our side also," said Smith, who is black. "Not anywhere else in the pool, just where our group is at."
The group, humiliated at this point, decided to leave, Smith said. One Y leader told a lifeguard they didn't like the way they were being treated and asked for a full refund of the $140 they paid to get in, Smith said.
The park district staff refunded $70 because the group had been at the pool for a while. And the group spent the rest of the day at Centre of Elgin's pool without incident, she said. The Y program aims to keep low-income children off the streets.
The Elgin YWCA board sent a letter this week to the park's board of directors about the incident, which prompted an internal investigation within the Dundee Township Park District.
Tom Mammoser, the park district's executive director, concluded the kids were roughhousing in the pool and says staff took appropriate action to enforce the rules and ensure everyone was safe. Mammoser was not present for the incident, but stands behind his employees' assessment of the situation.
According to one of the reports, the kids were dunking, body slamming and throwing each other in and out of the water -- clear violations of the shallow pool's policies, Mammoser said. He added that staff would have reacted the same way if all of the children had been white.
"Racial profiling never entered the minds of our staff," said Mammoser, who is white. "They are looking at patrons."
Mammoser has since offered to refund the group's remaining $70 and has invited the children to swim in the township's indoor pool in October.
"We would accept them back so that they would have the opportunity to enjoy the facility as it was intended, with another opportunity to follow the rules," Mammoser said, adding he didn't learn about the issue until he saw the letter.
Smith said a return visit won't happen unless the aquatic center staff undergoes diversity training. The kids, she added, were hurt and confused by the incident.
"We are very protective of our children here," Smith said.