After drownings, SC lawmaker wants swimming taught

CHARLESTON, S.C. - Public schools would have to offer free swimming lessons under a bill proposed by a South Carolina legislator after seven drowning deaths in the Charleston area in recent weeks.

State Rep. Wendell Gilliard's bill would require two years of swimming instruction as a high school graduation requirement, The (Charleston) Post and Courier reported Wednesday.

Gilliard's bill would require all public schools to provide instruction if there is a public pool within 10 miles of the district. Students who show they can swim would not have to take the lessons.

The bill does not include any provision for paying for the classes.

"There's no excuse for having pools in proximity to schools and not offering swimming classes," Gilliard said.

The Charleston County School District began discussing plans to offer voluntary swimming lessons to all kindergartners after a 6-year-old child drowned at a North Charleston apartment complex.

The death is one of seven this spring in the Charleston area. Four of the victims were younger than 7.

Charleston County School Superintendent Nancy McGinley says she looks forward to Gilliard's leadership in finding money for the program.

"We applaud any effort that will help keep children safe," she said.

Dorchester District 2 public information officer Pat Raynor says it would be tough to provide lessons for all 22,000 students in that district, which has no pools in its schools.

"It's a community concern," said Raynor, who said the responsibility for teaching youngsters to swim shouldn't be limited to schools.

Gilliard said he hopes to attach a plan to his bill to pay for the lessons. He said transportation to pools shouldn't be a problem because school buses already take students to various activities.

"That's what school buses are for," he said.

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