NJ law would mandate water safety courses at all schools
TRENTON — A Jersey Shore lawmaker wants all school districts to teach water safety to help prevent drownings.
Assemblyman Sean Kean, R-Monmouth, said he spent his life in the ocean working as a lifeguard. But he said there’s many children who live in his district along the Jersey Shore, who have never learned to swim. Many of these children are in poorer neighborhoods and never had the opportunity to have swimming instruction.
Drowning is the top cause cause of accidental deaths for kids under age 4 and it’s 100% preventable, according to The National Drowning Prevention Alliance.
Every year, when lifeguards go back to school after Labor Day or even when it’s after-hours during the summer, people go in the water and they don’t have the proper respect for the ocean, Kean said.
The instruction would provide students with information on the proper use of floatation devices, how to become aware of water conditions, the danger of rip currents and how to respond if caught in one and the importance of swimming in areas monitored by a lifeguard.
The law would allow districts to teach safety, swimming instruction or both.
He said if kids knew more about the some of the dangers that existed, they would be less inclined to do something risky. They would be able to identify riptides just by looking at the ocean, the waves and the surf.
The bill tries to ensure that kids are taught some caution, not to make them an Olympic swimmer, said Kean.
Joe Oehme, owner and founder of New Jersey Swim Schools, has been teaching swim and water safety for more than 25 years and he supports Kean’s bill. Oehme said swim lessons are just not enough. He said there needs to be education in the classroom, particularly for youth whose families might spend a day or week at the Jersey Shore for vacation.
"We think the bill is a great opportunity to reach out to those people who aren’t necessarily inundated in an aquatics lifestyle,” Oehme said.
Oehme said what with this instruction, youngsters might think twice about jumping into an ocean after hours or into a lake that’s unguarded.
Oehme, who is also on the board of Stop Drowning Now, said that when it comes to water safety, people need to know their limitations, learn how to swim and know how to save themselves if they ever fall in the water. Knowing where and when to swim, only in guarded waters, is so imperative.
He also said pools and beaches should have lifeguards on staff and emergency responders should know where all the pools are in their communities in order to respond quickly in an emergency.
He also recommends that parents learn how to perform CPR.
New Jersey Swim Schools began visiting schools in the state years ago to teach these principles. They are currently creating a curriculum and piloting water safety programs to be taught in schools across the state.
Kean first introduced a water safety bill in 2017 but it was stalled in the Legislature. Kean is re-introducing the bill, which would require each district to incorporate a water safety curriculum for grades K-12.
Kean said his bill has bipartisan sponsorship including Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, R-Union, and Assemblyman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen.