Wenatchee High School will require swimming lessons for non-swimming students

WENATCHEE — The Wenatchee School Board adopted a new swimming program Tuesday that calls for swim assessment tests for all freshman PE students.

The program for the coming year includes extra safety precautions in response to the tragic 2011 drowning of freshman student Antonio Reyes. The pilot program could be expanded into middle and elementary schools.

The new program makes changes to assess the swimming ability of all high school students and provide swim lessons for those who do not swim or who have limited swimming ability.

“I think it will be a big improvement,” said Superintendent Brian Flones. “It’s a big change and a different focus.”

The school board unanimously approved the most comprehensive of three options based on recommendations made by a water safety committee that included community-wide water safety and health and fitness experts, school staff and administrators. The options were developed by the district’s PE staff and aquatics coordinator and school administrators.

All of the options assumed that swim lessons for non-swimmers is a positive step and that swimming is a life skill that should be taught in the school. Non-swimmers will be expected to complete a swim class provided at the Wenatchee High School pool as part of their PE class or by an approved swim program at a community pool.

Flones said swimming lessons have not been held at the high school since 1988 when a double levy failure brought budget cutbacks.

“The accident made us step back and want to take another look at water safety and swimming skills,” he said. Since 1988, school swimming classes were replaced with aquatic fitness classes as part of the PE program.

The community-wide safety committee was put together last year to look at changes that could be made to improve water safety after Reyes drowned in the high school pool Nov. 17, 2011.

Committee consensus was that swimming is a life skill that should be taught in schools.

The option approved by the board calls for all swimming classes and PE classes held in the pool to be taught by a certified aquatics teacher along with two para-educators trained in teaching swimming lessons. Two additional lifeguards will also be on hand to ensure safety. The swimming program could be expanded to middle and elementary schools in future years.

Other options called for the classes to be taught by trained para educators or health and fitness teachers, but did not include a certified aquatics teacher. Estimated cost of the approved option is $40,255 a year compared to $26,888 and $34,440 for the other two options.

Flones said the money for the program would come out of the district’s general budget.

“Forty thousand dollars out of a $73 million budget isn’t a lot if it improves water safety,” he said.