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Hernando water safety program should be mandatory

Since when did learning to swim become a waste of time? Lost teaching time and the presumed budget-breaker of a paltry $18,000 — or the equivalent of $15.42 per child — brought a recommendation to the Hernando School Board this week to kill swim lessons and a water safety program provided to kindergarten pupils at the YMCA in Spring Hill.

School Board members wisely rejected the recommendation from superintendent Wayne Alexander. Still, they left participation up to the discretion of individual elementary schools. It would have been more appropriate to mandate the program.

The brunt of the cost is born by the YMCA of the Suncoast, which offered five lessons valued at $40 each, or more than $233,000, to provide lessons to 1,167 pupils last school year. The school district pitches in the cost of transportation and paying for some substitute teachers. The program has been in place for a dozen years. It's a wise investment for the community and a bargain for the district even in a tight budget year.

A suggestion to just give vouchers to individual families to use at the Y would be less effective. It presents logistical problems for everyone but the school system. Parents would have to transport children — discouraging participation among the poorest residents without a reliable vehicle — and the YMCA would need to schedule swim classes for as many as 1,100 kids after school or on weekends.

Eliminating the program also strikes us as counterproductive, considering the new state mandate to provide extended physical activity to elementary children as a way to combat childhood obesity.

Florida's rate of accidental drownings is double the national average. A five-year average for the first half of the decade showed 463 people drown in Florida annually and 566 were hospitalized after nearly drowning, according to the Florida Department of Health. The highest percentage of victims in both categories were young children.

Trying to ensure Hernando County children aren't part of those grim statistics is a valuable allocation of teaching time and public resources. Kudos to School Board members for recognizing the worthwhile investment.

Hernando water safety program should be mandatory 10/08/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 14, 2008 6:19pm]
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