School pool safety protocols vary from district to district in Minnesota. The drowning of Abdullahi Charif, a St. Louis Park Middle School student, may change that.
Attorney Fred Pritzker is calling on the Minnesota Department of Health to promulgate rules for school pool use. “A certified life guard should be present when children are swimming in a school pool,” said Fred, who is representing the family of Abdullahi Charif. “The tragic death of Abdullahi has prompted Minnesota school districts to reexamine their pool safety policies, but that is not enough. Everything possible should be done to make sure this never happens again.”
On February 27, 2014, Abdullahi Charif and 29 of his classmates were in the St. Louis Park School District pool for gym class. Only one adult, the gym teacher, was present.
“The gym teacher was not a certified life guard, but he was acting as one that day,” said Fred. “He was supervising 30 children in a pool, some of whom could not swim, including Abdullahi. Even if he had been a certified life guard, the student to supervisor ratio was unacceptable. No one person can keep his eyes on 30 children at once.”
Most Minnesota schools require that either a lifeguard or a certified water safety instructor be on duty when students are swimming, according to an article in the Star Tribune written by Kim McGuire. The article does a good job of outlining the problem:
“But school policies on water safety issues vary across districts. Some are quite detailed. The Hopkins public schools, for example, prohibits instructors from opening a pool area unless they have access to a telephone and first-aid equipment. Other policies are less specific about teachers’ poolside responsibilities. And very few address the student-instructor ratio.”
On Monday, Fred helped the family make public the St. Louis School District’s failure to provide the family with information about Abdullahi’s death. A day later, communication between the district and family began to improve, and the district agreed to let the family see the pool.