Legislation proposing a statewide mandate for swimming lessons before kindergarten may be in the works in Florida.
Introduction of the bill, which may be sponsored by the International Swimming Hall of Fame and the Florida Swimming Pool Association, is pending as these organizations explore the matter more.
In one possible scenario, this may be achieved by adding a brief amendment to a law currently on the books. The Sunshine State already requires certification of a “school-entry health examination” performed within one year of enrollment. This existing law allows schools to permit a student up to 30 school days to present certification that the requirements were met. They must take certain measures to help homeless children meet the criteria.
Industry and safety advocates are exploring the possibility of adding a clause that would add swimming lessons and an understanding of water safety to the requirements in the school-entry health examinations.
The idea was initiated by Casey McGovern, whose 19-month-old daughter drowned in a backyard pool 10 years ago. She currently serves as drowning prevention program manager for the Florida Department of Health in Broward County, where she promotes water-safety education. She approached ISHOF Board Chairman Bill Kent, who also connected her with FSPA.
“We’ve always believed in every child a swimmer, but we’ve never really done anything about it, in terms of willfully trying to pass legislation,” Kent said. “I thought that, rather than trying to get schools involved, which can involve bureaucratic and budget issues, the best thing is to make it a prerequisite to kindergarten.”
In its exploration, FSPA’s government relations team, consisting of paid staff and member volunteers, are visiting with legislators in their home districts. “We’ve been essentially on a listening tour with the Florida State Legislature, the Senate and the House,” said FSPA Government Affairs Manager Dallas Thiesen. “We’re trying to figure out what the State of Florida is comfortable doing as a government entity, but then also what is the State of Florida comfortable with asking of its parents with young children.”
FSPA also has a non-profit foundation, which is finding ways to increase revenue for a program to help children get the money or equipment they need for swimming lessons.
Organizers expect a bill to be introduced in time for the next legislative session.