Bill would require Minn. schools to offer swimming

MINNEAPOLIS - At Cedar Avenue Field Park, Naomi Matthews and her friend Dontrell Collins move with ease.

Height isn't a problem and neither is speed, but bring up swimming and the carefree play takes a turn.

"I feel a little scared and nervous," Dontrell said.

Dontrell can't swim, but Naomi can.

"It's kind of sad knowing that I can't swim to the deep side with my friends and have fun with them," Dontrell said.

In the Phillips Neighborhood, where they live, the closest public pool is just blocks down from the park. But the six -lane pool has been empty since 2008.

"We have significant disparities in white and minority children in learning how to swim," said Hannah Lieder, board chair of Minneapolis Swims, a nonprofit working to re-open the pool.

Lieder is among those throwing her support behind a new initiative at the State Capitol.

A bill being heard before the Minnesota House education policy committee on Tuesday could help kids like Dontrell learn to swim. It would require all schools to offer swimming for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

It's unclear how much implementing such a program would cost, but there's no doubt one of the biggest hurdles is shrinking school budgets. Lieder argues it's a priceless skill.

"Its practical. It's something that every child and everyone person in this state can use their whole life," she said.

Dontrell isn't a master swimmer yet, but he knows the value of having friends like Naomi.

"To keep me safe in the water and help other people from drowning," Dontrell said.

If the bill passes this session, Minnesota would become the first state in the nation to require all children to learn to swim.


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