Everything is bigger in Texas and that includes the importance of water safety. The Corpus Christi Independent School District (CCISD) is teaching students the importance of swimming safety in the Coastal Bend by starting a program to teach all third graders how to swim. That’s 34 schools in all, says KRIS-6 TV.
According to the Texas Department of Family and protective services, 64 children in Texas have drowned in 2023 in Texas. CCISD does not want a repeat of that.
"Every elementary school in CCISD gets four days with us and those four days we try to do everything we can to teach them how to swim," swimming coach Keith Springer told reporters. "On Monday we do a different thing than we do on Thursday; it all culminates in a swim test and if they are able to pass, then the students get to come back and join our swim club."
CCISD is not the first organization to mandate swimming lessons. When Florida passed the Every Child a Swimmer Law in 2021, it was long overdue, considering the Sunshine State leads the nation in childhood drownings.
And while the law does not mandate swimming lessons for children as part of the P.E. curriculum, it does have some advantages: schools in the state are now held responsible for providing information to parents on the importance of learning to swim – and resources are made available to parents who are financially disadvantaged, allowing them to access swim lessons for their children.
The next step, say aquatics associations, is to take the laws nationwide, enacting them in every state.
According to Aquatics International, a coalition made up of pool and spa industry organizations, as well as other groups, is promoting exactly that agenda:
“The non-profit foundations for both the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance and the Florida Swimming Pool Association have agreed to collaborate, not only to promote legislation, but also distribute scholarships and use other means to bring swim lessons to children.”
"We are very excited about continuing to promote laws like Every Child A Swimmer," said Lucinda McRoberts, executive director of the USA Swimming Foundation. "But passing legislation is not the end of the journey. It's going to take a lot of steps, and it's going to take those steps being taken nationwide. Simply put, drowning is a leading cause of death for children. Formal swimming lessons reduce the likelihood of childhood drowning by 88 percent. Parents and guardians must be made aware of the risk and how and where they can mitigate it. Florida’s Every Child a Swimmer law does exactly that, and we are working diligently to ensure more states follow their lead."
So far, the law is off to a running start; Louisiana just approved a requirement that public schools offer water safety training to children in grades K-12. In April 2023, a bill was proposed in Maryland requiring the state to create a swimming elective curriculum for their public schools grades eight through 12. The bill has bipartisan support, although some noted it would be better to have the bill apply to younger students. Unfortunately, the bill died in committee.
There has been an increasing amount of attention given to the fact that children in ethnic minorities are even less likely to learn to swim. BBC News quoted a statistic from the CDC, noting that the fatal drowning rate of African-American children aged five-14 is three times that of white children. In fact, Maryland’s bill was discussed in a committee hearing in March where state delegate Karen Toles emphasized the importance of minimizing the swim safety disparities in majority-Black communities:
SwimSwam notes, “The racist policies of swimming pools during the time of the Jim Crow laws, which persisted through the 1960s, created a lack of access to pools and, in turn, a generational fear of learning to swim within majority-Black communities. Toles says she never learned how to swim despite having a pool in her backyard while growing up and she is still nervous when children in her family are around water. “That fear has been passed down from generation to generation,” Toles said, according to DCist.
60 years later, a study by USA Swimming and the University of Memphis at YMCAs found that 64 percent of Black children can’t swim while about 40 percent of white children can’t swim. Additionally, the fatal drowning rate of Black children is three times higher than white children.
Legislation is a powerful way to break that cycle of fear, argues Howard University head coach Nic Askew. He provided the only testimony on the bill via Zoom, citing CDC statistics including that, “Drowning is the number one cause of death among toddlers aged 1 to 4 years old. And it is 100 percent preventable.”
Education Week notes that Maryland’s bill followed legislative efforts in other states to incorporate swimming into the school curriculum. In 2014, then-Rep. Karen Clark introduced a bill in Minnesota that would require public schools to provide swim lessons for K-12 students. The bill did not become law and swimming is not a graduation requirement in Minnesota, according to Kevin Burns, spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Education.
While a few individual schools and districts nationwide do require students to learn how to swim, there are still no statewide laws requiring schools to provide swimming lessons as part of their curriculum. Nevertheless, Toles said the bill in Maryland galvanized support from sources that could serve as future partners in such an initiative.
Hindering many states’ abilities to mandate swimming lessons is a lack of access to pools, particularly pools that are indoors, making them suitable for use during the school year. Transportation and logistics present another challenge. Maryland, for example, is in the midst of a shortage of school bus drivers (and it is not alone in the U.S. in having this problem).
Another obstacle is the ongoing lifeguard shortage. Right now, the biggest pool (heh) of lifeguards, that of high school and college students, is back in classes, meaning that there are even fewer people to oversee any programs that might be mandated.
"Learning to swim is a life skill," Kierstan Turner, chair of the YMCA of the Bethesda Chevy Chase in Maryland told the DC Fox News affiliate. "It's a skill that you must have. It's almost as important as learning to read. Every child needs to learn how to swim. Every adult needs to learn how to swim."