Maryland lawmaker proposes teaching swim lessons in public schools

A Maryland delegate never learned to swim, but she wants future generations to have the chance to learn the skill in school.

Del. Karen Toles represents Prince George’s County, and is one of the sponsors of a bill that would require the state’s Department of Education to develop a curriculum that would teach swimming and water safety to students in grades 8 through 12.

“We still went to beaches, we still went to parks,” Toles said. But she “never knew how to swim, so I just had to kind of wing it.”

HB 1105 is enthusiastically supported by Nick Askew, the director of swimming and diving at Howard University in D.C. The men’s swimming and diving team won the Northeast Conference Championship last month, a historic win for the historically Black university in a sport that’s traditionally been predominantly white.

“This bill is a huge step in a direction of being able to have a solution to this public health crisis,” he said.

Askew recently testified at a hearing on the bill and told lawmakers, “I implore you to think about our future. Drowning is the number one cause of death in toddlers age one to four-years-old.”

And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “In swimming pools, Black children ages 10-14 years drown at rates 7.6 times higher than white children.”

Askew said the bill would go a long way toward bringing “quality swimming opportunities to our communities in Maryland,” as well as promoting water safety and drowning prevention.

Toles said that under the bill, the swimming course would be an elective that students could use to fulfill their physical education requirement.

The bill would not require public schools to construct pools for instruction, but Toles said schools could partner with local facilities and departments of recreation to provide the lessons.

“Currently, we have a program like that in Prince George’s County, but it’s for second-graders,” she said.

There are just a few weeks left to get the bill passed before the end of the Maryland General Assembly session on April 10.

“You know, anything goes in Annapolis — things can happen the last day,” Toles said, adding that she’s open to amendments, including enacting the bill as a pilot program.

“This is a priority” as summer approaches, Toles said. “We know kids are going to the pools. We know they’re going to the beaches. Just like they’re learning health in school, they should be learning how to be safe in water.”

If enacted, the bill would go into effect for the 2025-2026 school year.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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