Bill would require swimming lessons

COLUMBIA --- A bill to make swimming lessons mandatory in South Carolina public schools could create challenges for Aiken County public schools.

"Considering the size of some of our high schools -- 1,400-1,600 students -- and the distance that some students would have to travel ... I don't see it being feasible at all to work into the school day," said Kevin O'Gorman, the district's associate superintendent for instruction and accountability.

The bill, H. 4149, would require students, beginning as early as kindergarten, to take two years of swimming lessons in order to graduate from high school. The bill applies to school districts that have a public pool within 10 miles of the district boundary line.

"This is not only for the safety of our children, but the health of them also," said Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, who introduced the bill last month.

Mr. O'Gorman said swimming is a valuable skill but transportation would be difficult, especially for Aiken County's rural schools in Ridge Spring and Wagener.

"Why the school system?" he said. "Obviously it's a community problem ... why isn't there a community effort to provide some lessons free to the entire public, not just those enrolled in public schools?

"They infringe upon why kids are in school, which is for academic purposes and to build character," Mr. O'Gorman said.

How to pay for a swimming program might pose the greatest challenge. Mr. Gilliard's bill does not appropriate state funds or specify how the districts would pay for the swimming instruction.

Lawmakers begin the second session of a two-year General Assembly in January.

Reach Sarita Chourey at (803) 727-4257 or sarita.chourey@morris.com.