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August 23, 2014

Minnesota, North Dakota schools revisit pool protocol in wake of deaths

Minnesota and North Dakota school districts are re-evaluating their swimming pool policies in the wake of recent pool-related deaths.

Frederic Ndereimana, 19, was found unconscious in Fargo South High School’s pool following a physical education class on Feb. 18. He died over the weekend, according to The Forum. Abdullahi Charif, 12, was pulled from St. Louis Park Middle School’s pool on Feb. 27. He died two days later.

These incidents have prompted schools to revisit pool protocols – Fargo school officials said the district has no written policies for water safety, The Forum reports. Minnesota schools have widely varying pool safety policies, according to the Star Tribune.

The Minnesota Department of Education does not require physical education teachers to be certified lifeguards, according to KAAL. However, most Minnesota schools require either a lifeguard or a certified water safety instructor to be on duty when students are swimming, the Star Tribune reports.

Very few policies address student-instructor ratio, the Star Tribune says. At many schools, those capable of rescuing distressed swimmers are teachers in charge of leading the class. Lifeguard training groups say to respond to incidents in a timely manner, it’s important to scan the water without distractions or other duties, The Forum reports. Some schools have heeded this advice and additional instructors are present.

There were two teachers on deck during the Feb. 18 incident at Fargo South High School. At least one of them was a certified lifeguard, according to the Fargo School District. At St. Louis Park Middle School, only one adult – a certified water safety instructor – was watching over a class of about 30 seventh graders, Fred Pritzker, a lawyer for Abdullahi Charif’s family, said.

“You can have all the policies in the world on paper,” said Rick Kaufman, a spokesman for the Bloomington School District, which has a detailed safety protocol for pool instructors, according to the Star Tribune. “What’s critical is making sure your staff is supervising students at all times and [that] they are properly trained.”

The widely varying pool safety practices in local districts highlight a lack of standards nationwide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has spent seven years developing national guidelines to prevent drowning, injuries and water illnesses, The Forum reports. The CDC’s Model Aquatic Health Code will be available this summer, according to its website.

The CDC says on average 10 people die a day from unintentional drowning in the United States – that’s about 3,533 non-boating related drownings annually. One in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger.