CIAC applauds pool safety bill, increased supervision

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Regional - posted Thu., Mar. 7, 2013

The Connecticut General Assembly Education Committee has introduced House Bill 6503, “An Act Concerning Public School Pool Safety.” This bill is a direct response to two drowning deaths that occurred last year in Connecticut public schools.

On Jan. 11, 2012, freshman Marcum Asiamah drowned in the East Hartford High School pool during gym class. On Nov. 21, 2012, Malvrick Donkor of Manchester High School, who was also a freshman, and, like Asiamah, was originally from Ghana, drowned during his gym class.

The Education Committee heard testimonies during a public hearing held Monday, March 4. Addressing the committee was Paul Hoey, associate executive director of the Connecticut Association of Schools - Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, or CASCIAC, who spoke in favor of the proposed legislation.

In summary, the bills seeks to: “establish standards for who can teach and supervise a physical education course that makes use of a swimming pool; to require an additional supervisor of a physical education class that makes use of a pool if such class has more than 25 students; to require school districts to establish a swimming pool safety plan; and to require the Department of Public Health to adopt regulations to include swimming pools and natatoriums located at schools in the Public Health Code.”

In a phone conversation, Hoey reiterated his testimony, saying that CASCIAC supports safety legislation that is clear, can be realistically implemented, and would not put an undue burden on schools. “Meaning, not so restrictive in regulation and/or potential cost that it is going to cause schools to say, 'Well, we're not going to offer swimming as part of our physical education,' which I think would be a disservice to the kids of the community,” he said.

The bill has clear expectations regarding the qualifications of swim instructors in public schools. CASCIAC wholeheartedly agrees with the establishment of unified standards. “Most schools already have them in place,” said Hoey. “What this does is to assure that every school has them, and that every instructor working on the deck has met all the qualifications that are outlined in the legislation.”

Hoey also applauds the legislation's openness to utilizing other qualified individuals, such as students who have a free period during another class's pool time, to assist in pool supervision. “I found that to be a particularly creative and great idea, because a lot of the student-athletes in schools, especially in the swim team, are certified lifeguards and water safety instructors,” he said. This possibility would allow qualified students to help out as volunteers or even be paid by the school system. 

There was only one aspect of the bill about which Hoey expressed concern. The requirement to have an additional physical education instructor present if the class has more than 25 students does not, he believes, go far enough.

Hoey believes that a second instructor should become mandatory at classes size of 18 to 20. He believes that this point will receive a lot of consideration going forward. “That is the one part of this legislation that the committee will debate the most,” he said. The Education Committee is likely to reevaluate the class size-to-instructor ratio based on industry standards set by other organizations, such as the American Red Cross. “I think that number will come down from 25 based on recommendations from national organizations,” he said. It is also possible that the number will fluctuate depending on the age group of the students.

Since the drowning of both students, other pool safety bills have been advanced by legislators, such as House Bill 5113, introduced by state Rep. Stephen Dargan (D-115), which aims to establish a uniform policy regarding safety at public schools. With many bills advancing similar goals, Hoey anticipates that the best aspects of each will be identified, and a single bill will ultimately be presented.

In Manchester, Interim Superintendent Richard Kisiel has made it clear that additional steps have been made to ensure safety at the Manchester High School pool. The East Hartford school district has maintained a posture of “no comment” in regards to pool-related discussion, and Superintendent Nathan Quesnel would not give any reaction to the proposed pool safety legislation.

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