Recently, Michels & Lew became a sponsor of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance (NDPA), a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public on ways to prevent drowning deaths among both children and adults.

While most parents know about the dangers of drowning in open waters, like the ocean or a lake or pond, or even in a neighbor's pool, many are unlikely to have considered the possibility of their children drowning while at school.

However, for some parents, this possibility has become a reality. This includes the family of John E., who drowned during a P.E. class his junior year at a Central Coast High School. A fellow student saw the 17-year-old at the bottom of the pool and alerted the class's instructor. However, by the time John was brought to the surface, it already was too late.

Dangerous Loophole in California Law

Drownings during physical education courses would be less likely to occur if public schools were required to provide lifeguards during P.E. courses.

However, a loophole in California law does not require lifeguards at public schools. According to the state Health and Safety Code, lifeguards are not legally required unless the pool charges a fee for admission. Since public schools do not charge students a fee to use the pool, they do not have to provide lifeguards for their protection during swimming classes - even in cases when students are required to take these classes.

Since state law does not mandate that lifeguards be on-duty during aquatic P.E. classes, it is left up to each school district to decide whether or not to provide a lifeguard. Many schools, however, regretfully decide to forgo a lifeguard. Instead, they only have a P.E. instructor.

With some classes having 30 or more students, it becomes impossible for a P.E. instructor, who may not even have adequate water safety training, to simultaneously watch all of the children and instruct them. Given that it takes less than 90 seconds for a child submerged underwater to lose consciousness, a P.E. instructor busy watching over an entire class of sometimes rowdy high school students may not even notice a child has gone missing until it is too late.

For more than 20 years, advocates and parents alike have been trying to change California law to make lifeguards mandatory during public school P.E. courses. However, so far their efforts have been unsuccessful.

What Can Parents Do?

Each year, 1500 children lose their lives due to accidental drowning. Thirty-seven percent of these deaths are among children under age four, making drowning the number two cause of death of children in this age group.

The majority of accidental drownings occur in backyard pools and spas, an area parents can control and make as safe as possible for their children. Some of the ways parents can do this is by:

  • Installing a four-sided fence around the pool with a self-closing, self-latching gate
  • Installing an alarm on the pool gate
  • Putting a phone by the pool for emergency use
  • Having safety gear, including a life-saving ring, poolside
  • Never leaving children of any age unattended in the pool
  • Not substituting toys, including floats and noodles, for lifejackets and other safety gear
  • Learning CPR
  • Removing toys from the pool and pool deck
  • Using an automatic pool cover when the pool is not in use

Parents also should enroll their children in swimming lessons at an early age. However, it is important to understand that even children who know how to swim still can drown. Parents should never believe that children who can swim are safe from drowning and should continue to supervise these children the same as they would children who cannot swim.

Even though public schools are not legally required to provide lifeguards, they still have a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of your children. Be an informed parent and ask your school what safety measures are in place to prevent drowning.

If your loved one was injured or died as a result of a pool accident, contact the experienced attorneys at the Law Offices of Michels & Lew today.