MINNEAPOLIS - A Minnesota lawmaker is determined to do something to cut down the chances of young people drowning in the Land of 10,000 lakes.
Sen. Jeff Hayden, a Minneapolis Democrat and the Deputy Majority Leader, has authored a bill (SF-1825) that would require the Commissioner of Education to "include aquatics instruction in the standards for physical education in kindergarten through grade 12."
Hayden's short bill takes note of a lack of pools in some districts.
"A school site without a pool or without access to a pool within 10 miles of the school site at least must provide the students with instruction of water safety, water safety rescue techniques, dry land strokes, kick practice and buoyancy principles."
"Kids just do not know how to swim," said Hayden, standing on the edge of the waterless pool at the Phillips Community Center. "They do not know how to float. They do not know how to do the basic things to save themselves. So, we are hoping that this will prompt schools to really start thinking about it. We think this should be an added curriculum, and I would be more than willing to support capital investment if communities wanted to build pools that do not have it."
Hayden said that he believes adding the learn-to-swim curriculum is "something that the state should invest in" rather than the districts. There is nothing in the bill, presently, about the cost of a program or where the funding would originate.
Hayden pointed to state funding for about $1.7 million toward the effort to expand and reopen the dry Phillips pool. He said there is still a gap of "maybe $500,000 to $700,000."
"We are still hoping for potential donors," said Hayden, "but we think that the time is now."
Hayden's efforts to prevent drowning preceded the tragic death of a middle schooler in St. Louis Park in February, but Hayden felt the incident underlined the importance of his bill.
"I do not know the mitigating circumstances, but this was a young person of color whose folks said that he could not swim and that was found in the bottom of the pool," said Hayden. "I think this just reinforces the reason why we want to make sure that we teach kids to swim while they are at school."
Hayden's bill has been sent to the Senate Education Committee. No hearings are scheduled as yet. Rep. Karen Clark, a Minneapolis Democrat, is carrying a companion bill in the Minnesota House. It is also in committee.