Mom says Monroe summer camp turned daughter away because of her seizures

Mom says summer camp turned daughter away because of her seizures

MONROE, N.C. — A Monroe mother said she was looking forward to her daughter with special needs getting a chance to spend the summer with other kids her age, but she was denied because of her seizures.

Fourteen-year-old Shaye spent the summer drawing, jumping on the trampoline and hanging out with her mom, Rhonda Helms.

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Helms told Channel 9 she hoped Shaye would get to spend the summer with the other kids at the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs in Monroe, but they turned her away.

"She said, 'She can't participate,' and I said, 'Do you want to tell me why?' They said, 'Well, because of her seizures," Helms said.

Shaye has epilepsy. Helms said she tried to explain that Shaye had gone four months without a seizure and the medication, Diastat, she carries is for emergencies but the answer from the camp was still no.​​​​​​

"Unequivocally, absolutely told me to my face that my daughter is a liability," Helms said.

"It's frustrating," Shaye told Channel 9.

Shaye has a community advocate, Andrea Stevens, through Medicaid who found the camp for her. Her advocate said she can't believe Shaye was turned away.

"As an advocate, you can't make policies that discriminate," Stevens said.

Helms said her daughter was crushed.

"She gets in the car and says, "Mom, why don't they want me?'" Helms said.

Helms was frustrated, too, and started doing her research.

"It broke my heart for her, but I was more angry because kids like her are challenged every day," Helms said.

Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Charlotte handbook states, "Staff will take emergency medical measures necessary for the care and protection of a child."

But camp officials told Helms they wouldn't administer medication.

Channel 9's Genevieve Curtis contacted the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Charlotte, and Director of Communications Brent Rinehart sent the following statement:

"The Boys & Girls Clubs did not, and would not, deny enrollment to a child for this reason. In this particular situation, it was explained to the parent that Club staff is unable in any circumstance to administer medication, as is detailed in our Parent Handbook. In the event of an epileptic event or other medical emergency, our staff would notify the parent(s) and take emergency medical measures by calling 9-1-1. It's up to the parent to determine if that protocol adequately meets their needs.

"Our goal at the Boys & Girls Club is to provide a safe place for all kids, especially those who need us most. We understand that in some circumstances, there are programs that may be a better fit for their child, and ultimately that is a parent's decision."

The Epilepsy Foundation's legal team said it's illegal to deny enrollment because of a medical condition and it's also illegal to refuse to administer Diastat to a child having a seizure.

"The Department of Justice, where I used to work, has sued camps for doing exactly that," Allison Nichol Director of Legal Advocacy, Jeanne Carpenter Legal Defense Fund for the Epilepsy Foundation.

The foundation said it's an issue it sees at summer camps around the country.

"That is an absolute, unequivocally clear violation of the federal civil rights laws," Nichol said.

Helms said she is now on a mission to educate others and make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else.

"If it will help one other person, because it was horrible how she was made to be felt that day, and me as her mom, I couldn't fix it for her," Helms said.