Popular Westfield Gym Defends Decision to Deny Birthday Party to Boy With Down Syndrome

Surgent's Elite School of Gymnastics in Westfield. Credits: Jill D'Ambrosio

WESTFIELD, NJ – The mother of a young boy with Down syndrome is speaking out about a popular gymnastics studio that denied her child a birthday party because of his disability. Theresa Kuhns of Cranford said she was surprised how fast her story spread after she posted it on Facebook Thursday afternoon. Angry parents quickly shared her post, and some are calling for a boycott.

In her post, Kuhns explained how she called the day before to reserve a spot for her son’s fifth birthday party at the studio’s Garwood location. (Surgent’s also has two gyms in Westfield and one in Roselle Park.)

She wrote that she was given a spot for the party over the phone and went to the gym in person Thursday morning to sign a contract and leave a deposit.

Sign Up for E-News

“As I’m looking at the form, it explicitly says no special needs children will be accommodated or can participate,” she wrote.

She told the manager on duty that her son has Down syndrome. The manager checked with the gym’s owner and eventually told her that “because of insurance purposes and no instructors having special needs training, they cannot host this party,” she wrote.

DJ Surgent, son of owner and founder Jim Surgent, told TAP into Westfield that the gym’s policy comes down to the safety of the children participating in the program.

“We don’t have anybody on staff with special needs training and certifications,” Surgent said. “We didn’t feel comfortable that we could prevent injury.”

Surgent, whose mother was a special education teacher who worked with children with Down syndrome, said he sympathized.

“I understand how that could be upsetting for any mom. I really do,” he said.

Surgent’s does not have group classes for children with special needs but it does offer private lessons at times when the gym is less busy and equipment can be arranged appropriately.

 "We're happy to do it. We've been doing it for years," Surgent said of this type of private instruction.

In her post, Kuhns stressed that her son has no medical restrictions and said that he is “more like your typical child than not.”

“I don’t understand how this has been allowed to continue but my heart breaks for my son and others who would want to take a class, have a party, etc.,” she wrote.

Special education law consultant and child advocate Greer Gurland said the case sounded “disheartening and disturbing.”

“I would be interested to know what options the gym considered to address their safety concerns,” said Gurland. “It sounds like a missed opportunity to build a connection to a wonderful community.”

Kuhns told TAP into Westfield that DJ Surgent called her Thursday night and apologized, but stopped short of allowing her son to have his party at the gym.

 “We had a good, productive conversation,” said Kuhns. “He did say he wanted to take the right steps in the future. I don’t think it’s the big undertaking that he thinks it is, and I hope they make the changes they say they would.”

Kuhns is heartened by the outpouring of support she has received from the community.

“Social media has changed what a business can and can’t do,” said Kuhns. She said that eight people so far have contacted her to say that their child was denied a chance to participate at Surgent's for the same reason. “I think this is just plain discrimination," said Kuhns. She noted that October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month.

She called Surgent’s apology “a great first step.”

Surgent noted that the gym, which has been in business nearly 40 years, is a supporter of Special Olympics.

Additional reporting by Jackie Lieberman.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News


Fanwood Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Mobile Meals of Westfield

April 22, 2018

FANWOOD, NJ  — At the Fanwood Borough Council meeting on Monday, April 16, Mayor Colleen Mahr read a resolution acknowledging Mobile Meals' 50th anniversary and presented it to volunteers Nancy Otchy and Josephine Walsh.

Mobile Meals, based in Westfield, delivers meals to thousands of area residents every day. The organization passed its one millionth meal delivery several ...

2018 Municipal Budget is on Collision Course with Principles of Financial Soundness & Stability

April 18, 2018

Having chaired the town council’s finance committee in the recent past, I appreciate the hard work that goes into developing a municipal budget for a town as large and dynamic as Westfield. But as I have expressed publicly and also to the mayor and my council colleagues, I do not support the adoption of Westfield’s 2018 municipal budget. Although the budget contains much that I ...

Upcoming Events

Tue, April 24, 4:00 PM

Westfield Memorial Library, Westfield

Westfield Memorial Library Spring Book Sale

Arts & Entertainment


Tue, April 24, 7:00 PM

Westfield Municipal Building, Westfield

Westfield Town Council Meeting


Tue, April 24, 7:30 PM


Westfield Board of Education Meeting


Westfield Police Blotter: Residence Burglarized & More

April 18, 2018

April 11, 2018 10:23 a.m.

Raymond Rodgers, 56, of Westfield, NJ was arrested in the area of E. Broad Street. Rodgers was arrested pursuant to an unrelated traffic investigation. Rogers was transported to Westfield Police HQ without incident. At WPD HQ, Rodgers was processed and released after posting the full bail amount ($250). Rodgers was arrested on the strength of an outstanding Westfield ...

Video: Point View's Petrides Talks AMEX, GE and Amazon Earnings, Stock Outlook

April 22, 2018

Point View Wealth Management's Managing Director and Portfolio Manager, John Petrides, live on FOX Business AM discussing several upcoming pivotal earnings and possible market reactions:


​​​​For nearly 25 years, Point View Wealth Management, Inc. has been working with families in Summit and beyond, providing customized portfolio management ...

'The Sting' shimmers and shakes at Paper Mill

‘The Sting ‘slithers and shakes at Paper Mill Playhouse


MILLBURN, NJ – In a premiere production of “The Sting,” Harry Connick Jr. commands the Paper Mill Playhouse stage in Millburn.

Based on the sensational Paul Newman/Robert Redford film in 1973, the 1930s plot centers on a con game and gambling, sometimes on a train between New York and ...

Edison Students Participate in Beta Test of Google Augmented Reality App

Students and teachers at Edison Intermediate School participated in a recent beta test of a Google application that uses augmented reality technology to explore the inner workings of plant cells, the functions and framework of the human skeletal system, and other educational subjects.

Edison Media Specialist Andrew Cusumano arranged for a Google representative to visit the school on April 9 to ...

Get Your Home Ready for Summer Before its TOO HOT

Finally, the weather is getting warmer and you are shedding those down coats. Now is a great time to start thinking about summer and getting your home prepared. Paying attention to a few maintenance items can alleviate painful repairs later on if you wait too long. The line ahead of you will build as the summer rush starts. So, let’s not wait.

Check your roof   (hire the expert ...

Why We Keep Kosher

Why We Keep Kosher

This week's parshah, Shemini, introduces the Torah's dietary laws. Animals must chew their cud and have split hooves to be kosher, fish need fins and scales, and a list of forbidden fowl is enumerated.

To those of us in Jewish education, it is a continuing source of disappointment that so many Jews still believe the kosher laws to be outdated.

Hellenic Therapy Center

April 13, 2018

Dropping Off Our Kids At College – Learning How To Adjust

Hellenic Therapy Center


Whether your kid is a freshman entering college for the first time or returning back to college, there are so many emotions we experience as parents.  There are differences in a parent’s reaction to the departure of a first child, an only child or even the last child.  Feelings ...


Oct 21, 1944 - Apr 14, 2018
Kathleen A. Hertell passed away peacefully with family at her bedside on April 14, 2018. Loving ...
Read more

Mets Sign Patriots Pitcher Before He Can Unpack His Gear

April 20, 2018

BRIDGEWATER, NJ — The Somerset Patriots have announced that right-hand pitcher Scott Copeland’s contract has been purchased by the New York Mets.

So, instead of stretching out and getting in shape at TD Bank Ballpark, he's been sent to extended spring training at the Mets' complex in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

The 6’3” righty broke into the big leagues in ...