Michigan schools would be required to teach swim safety under new bill

Public schools would be required to teach students water safety under a new bipartisan bill introduced in the Michigan state Senate last week. 

Students would learn about the proper use of flotation devices, identifying different water conditions, and safe behaviors in and around the water. The unit would be taught during either a health or physical education class.

Notably, swim lessons are not required to be part of the curriculum. Instead, it mandates that students would be provided with the best water safety instruction that's also age-appropriate for the age of those being taught.

In a state surrounded by water that is also peppered with inland lakes and rivers, teaching kids how to stay safe in the water and being aware of how conditions in the Great Lakes changes could be life-saving.

Michigan's drowning rate is less than the national average, but still above the other states that are adjacent to one of the five Great Lakes. Drowning is the leading cause of death for children 1 to 4 years old.

"Everyone in our state lives less than 85 miles from one of the Great Lakes, yet a recent statewide survey shows that fewer than 15% of Michigan schools provide water safety education or swimming to students," said Sen. Roger Victory, R-Hudsonville, who is the bill's primary co-sponsor. 

SB 736 also requires the education department review the program's model each year. Along with water safety, it'll also teach the importance of formal lessons, pool barriers, and avoiding alcohol and substances while in the water.

According to water safety experts, teaching students how to be safe in the water has taken priority over learning specific strokes in recent years. For those that have access to swim lessons, the first sessions focus more on getting comfortable in the water and ensuring kids know what to do if they fall in. 

However, there are many barriers to swim lessons, including transportation, proximity, and cost. In response to some of those challenges, the Huron-Clinton Metroparks has partnered with several YMCA locations around metro Detroit where they offer classes for free.

The classes are in high demand and registration fills up fast

Offering water safety classes within schools could be a way of increasing access to sessions.


Huron-Clinton Metroparks see huge demand for free kids and adult swim lessons

Access to a pool, the cost of classes, and experiences like a near-drowning are all barriers to learning how to swim. But in a state surrounded by lakes, getting comfortable in the water can be life-saving.