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Invoking 2014 drowning death, lawmaker backs bill requiring annual certifications for school lifeguards, swim instructors 

Posted by | March 15, 2017 | Drowning Prevention, Water Safety

By Erin Duffy / World-Herald staff writer Feb 28, 2017 (1)State

Sen. Justin Wayne called it a no-brainer.A bill proposed by Wayne would require swimming instructors or lifeguards at public schools to get annual certifications in safety courses such as CPR or drowning prevention.There are currently no state laws or requirements mandating those extra safety steps, Wayne said.In a hearing for Legislative Bill 398 before the Education Committee on Monday, Wayne invoked a drowning death at Nathan Hale Magnet Middle School in Omaha. The incident happened in 2014, when Wayne was a member of the Omaha Public Schools board.“This bill is really simple,” Wayne said. “It just says if schools are going to teach swim lessons, their instructor should be lifeguard-certified and CPR-certified, current.”The bill calls for anyone employed or serving as a swimming instructor or lifeguard for a public school to be certified by a nationally recognized aquatic training program in swimming instruction, first aid, CPR and drowning risk prevention.Wayne said the bill may seem obvious, but he pointed to the drowning incident at Nathan Hale.Seventh-grader Demariont’e Brown-Elliott drowned in the school’s pool in November 2014, during gym class. Demariont’e, 12, was a beginning swimmer who had already failed one test of his swimming skills, so he was supposed to stay in the shallow end of the pool.As students lined up to leave the pool area at the end of gym class, Demariont’e could not be found, according to a tort claim filed against OPS by the boy’s mother. The gym teacher reportedly walked to the deep end of the pool, noticed someone at the bottom and jumped in. After several attempts, the teacher was able to bring the boy to the surface and attempted CPR.Demariont’e died at the hospital the next day.OPS agreed to a $250,000 settlement with his mother, Adrienne Elliott, but admitted no wrongdoing or liability. In the tort claim, Elliott alleged that her son died as a result of negligence by OPS employees and administrators who failed to properly supervise the swim class and ensure student safety.The drowning was ruled accidental, and no charges were filed.OPS officials have never released a full account or timeline of the accident, citing federal student privacy laws.The district said the teacher, who was supervising a class of 10 students as part of an aquatics unit, had taken a course in first aid, CPR and sports injury, and a course in swimming during college. The district did not identify the teacher or how much time had passed since those courses.Wayne said the bill was not meant to blame or point fingers at the gym teacher.“In no way is that necessarily the reason that happened in this situation,” he said. “This is just to me a no-brainer that we should have on the books to make sure all teachers who teach physical education and gym classes should be lifeguard and CPR-certified.”State Sen. Mike Groene, chairman of the Education Committee, said he hailed from a small town that didn’t have indoor pools at schools.“There’s no lifeguard there when there’s PE classes or whatever?” he asked Wayne.“They’re not required by law,” Wayne answered.In Omaha, the State Department of Health and Human Services and the Douglas County Health Department regulate pools. Douglas County Health regulations state that “schools or institutions which conduct swimming classes or swimming meets may be exempted from lifeguard requirements.”The Nebraska Department of Education does not have rules regarding safety courses for teachers or swimming instructors, spokesman David Jespersen said.“It would be up to the individual districts to have policies in place,” he said.State. Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln asked whether teachers or instructors would have to retake the same course every year. Wayne said sometimes there are online classes for quicker renewals.No one testified in support or opposition to the bill.OPS spokeswoman Monique Farmer said the school board has not taken an official position on the bill. Since the drowning at Nathan Hale, the district’s policy is to have one gym teacher with lifeguard certification at every school with a swimming pool, Farmer said.Rebecca Kleeman, a spokeswoman for the Millard Public Schools, said the district believes it already meets or exceeds the certification requirements in Wayne’s bill.“Anytime one of our three pools is being used, there is a certified lifeguard present,” she said. “Our certification is through the American Red Cross.”That annual certification covers lifeguarding, first aid and CPR, she said.In 2014, Westside officials said that at Westside High, the school’s director of aquatics serves as a lifeguard during swim classes and also identifies students in her classes who are certified lifeguards.erin.duffy@owh.com, 402-444-1210

Source: Invoking 2014 drowning death, lawmaker backs bill requiring annual certifications for school lifeguards, swim instructors | Legislature | omaha.com

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