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Varying safety standards at US swimming pools studied to try to prevent more teenage deaths


Safety Standards Vary For Child Swim Classes From:

Four deaths in Conneticut in recent years lead to scrutiny

December 01, 2012|By ALAINE GRIFFIN,, The Hartford Courant

Safety standards in children's swim classes vary throughout Connecticut, from the stringent requirements that direct state-licensed organizations to the more vague guidelines used in public schools, a Courant review has found.

The lack of uniformity in safety policies — and the extent of their enforcement — is coming under intense scrutiny following the drowning of a Manchester High School student last week and three other recent deaths of children in pools across Connecticut.



Malvrick Donkor drowned in the Manchester High School pool during gym class Nov. 21.

Malvrick Donkor drowned in the Manchester High School pool during gym class… (Courtesy

The Nov. 21 death of Manchester High freshman Malvrick Donkor, 14, during a swim class — the second drowning at a Connecticut school this year — prompted school officials throughout the state this week to revisit their swimming safety policies and review them with staff members.

As part of the internal investigation into Donkor's death, Interim Superintendent Richard Kisiel said Friday that the town is reviewing its own swimming pool safety policies. He declined to discuss details about the events leading up to Donkor's death.

"Part of our internal investigation is looking into whether all of the procedures we need to follow are in place," Kisiel said.

Kisiel said he favors the idea of a uniform swim-safety policy statewide following Donkor's death and the drowning last January of 15-year-old Marcum Asiamah during a swim class at East Hartford High School.

"I think it would clarify things," Kisiel said. "I'm surprised our legislators haven't put together some legislative packet following what happened in East Hartford. I know it's something I plan on talking about. If that's what we've got to do to ensure the safety of our kids, we should do it."

Swimming pool safety policies are expected to take center stage in legal action taken by family members of some of the drowning victims. In East Hartford, police explored the possibility of making an arrest. No criminal charges have been filed.

Swimming activities at child care programs and camps licensed by the state are regulated by the state Department of Public Health, which sets such specific mandates as staff-to-child ratios in swim classes and in programs for infants to school-age children.

But the thousands of children who swim at schools and private swim programs across the state are not protected by those same rules. School districts, in collaboration with local health districts and often using input from American Red Cross national guidelines, are left to police themselves when it comes to pool safety.

Unlicensed private swim programs also create their own rules.

Many school districts and private programs have comprehensive and strict safety rules which, in most cases, are taken from the Red Cross guidelines. But exact rules and their implementation can vary. For example, student-to-staff ratios, a key component in swim-lesson safety, are widely inconsistent even in programs within the same town.

"I took a look at the [state] statutes and was surprised at how little there is, pools in general, pools in schools," said Vincent A. Mustaro, senior staff associate for policy services at the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education. "Especially when we have so many other things that are chapter-and-verse."

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