Should NJ schools be required to teach swim safety?

No Lifeguard on Duty sign at Spring Lake
No Lifeguard on Duty sign at Spring Lake
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SPRING LAKE - With the Atlantic Ocean as his backdrop, Assemblyman Sean Kean urged New Jersey legislators Friday to support a bill that would require instruction in water safety in public schools.

Kean was joined by Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines; Dominick Mondi, Executive Director of Northeast Spa and Pool Association; and Joe Ohme, founding board member of the New Jersey Swim Safety Alliance, all supporters of water safety initiatives.

“Every school district is required to incorporate so many different aspects into the curriculum.” Kean said. “I think this one is a no brainer. We're gonna keep at it until we get it done.”

Bill A618 proposes that K-12 school districts be required to provide instruction on water safety. Though proposed in 2022, Kean said the bill has been in development for years.

“It was a reaction to several drownings.” Kean said. “It was one of those things where I felt like I had to do something.”

More: Lifeguards are key to Jersey Shore summer safety, but they're in short supply

“We've worked on this together for about five years.” Ohme said. “Sean reached out to me after we had a tragic double drowning right here at the Jersey Shore”

In addition to Kean, the bill has the support of 10 other Republicans as well as 8 Democrats, but despite the bipartisan support has yet to be brought up in the Assembly Education Committee, where it was referred.

“It's common sense that it should pass. This is not gonna cost us anything and it's not a mandate,” Gaines said.

Gaines, a Florida resident, got involved in advocating for the bill because of his work with the Pool and Hot Tub Alliance, which is partnered with the Northeast Spa and Pool Association. Both groups support more pool and water education and water safety.

“Dominick Mundy, who is executive director of the foundation asked me to come up and said, ‘We're doing this water safety initiative and we'd love for you to come’ and I said, ‘I'll be there tomorrow. Tell me when,’” Gaines said.

According to the CDC, drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1-4. Drowning is the second leading cause of death for children 5-14 as well, following motor vehicle crashes.

In 2022, at least 50 people died in New Jersey due to drowning in swimming pools or natural water, according to preliminary data from the NJ Department of Health.

“Drowning prevention and aquatic safety is so much more than just swimming lessons.” Mondi said. “You’ve gotta respect the environment you’re in.”

Over the past few years, New Jersey has had trouble hiring and maintaining lifeguards for those environments. On Indeed, an online job-seeking portal, there are currently more than 200 available lifeguard positions in Monmouth County alone. Many lifeguards are educators or students, who, once September comes, return to schools. Yet September is a prime time for beachgoers.

“The lifeguards are either going back to school because they teach or they're going back to college.” Kean said. “Traditionally it hasn't paid a lot. Oftentimes (drownings) happen in September.”

While the weather can be beautiful for going to the beach in September, the ocean can also be at its most dangerous because of the impacts of storms and hurricane season, Kean said.

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Monmouth legislator wants swim safety taught in every NJ school