It is too expensive to require every school to have a pool for swimming lessons, a state group looking at the issue has concluded.

The group reports that it would cost more than $550 million to provide pools and lessons for all public school students.

Instead, it suggests that schools partner with existing community pools and work drowning prevention into physical education classes.

Daron Korte, an assistant commissioner with the Minnesota Department of Education, said the report was prepared at the request of state representatives in response to several drownings over the past couple of years, including one at a school in St. Louis Park.

The state is especially concerned with providing swimming lessons to children of color, children from low-income families and children from immigrant families.

“The advocates are concerned with access,” Korte said. “I think the work group identified very early on that it wouldn’t be a practical recommendation to say all schools should have swimming pools and swimming instruction should occur in those swimming pools.”

Samantha Carolus, the program manager for Abbey’s Hope Charitable Foundation, a water safety organization, said swimming instruction should be as much a part of gym class as football and baseball.

“Swimming is not only a life skill, but a lifesaving skill,” Carolus said. “Pools are expensive to maintain and a lot of underserved populations don’t have access to water, to pools. When you don’t have access to water, you probably don’t get the opportunity to learn how to swim.”

Carolus added that this has become a generational issue. “When you have parents and grandparents who don’t know how to swim or haven’t taken water safety classes, you are less likely to learn to swim,” she said.

Lindsay Mondick, senior manager of aquatics at the YMCA, said that including parents in swimming instruction is critical. “Just as important as educating the kids is educating the parents,” said Mondick, who was part of the state work group.

Sarah Loch, health and physical education program facilitator for the Minneapolis Public Schools, said supplementing existing school-owned pools with community pools is a good idea. South High School already partners with the Midtown YWCA.

“I do believe that it is the role of public schools to incorporate swim instruction into physical education curriculum,” Loch said. “Especially in the state of Minnesota with all of our lakes, learning to swim is an important skill so all of our students can enjoy Minnesota summers.”

 

Zoe Peterson is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.