Parents try to revive swim class

"There is still some splashing to be done over the Bainbridge Island School District's decision to drop school-year swim programs for three elementary-level grades.A group of parents, supported by a stack of petitions bearing some 1,500 signatures, will urge school board members to reconsider their July vote to drop the first- and third-grade swim classes - as well as those for fifth-graders, dropped a year earlier - at the board's 7 p.m. Thursday meeting in the Bainbridge High School library.We're going to let the school board know that the community wants to keep these programs, and that the alternatives they've presented don't work, said Kathy Cooper, a parent and swim instructor who spearheaded the petition effort. I know this has upset a lot of parents.When the program was dropped, district officials cited the inability to fit the swim lessons into a school-day time frame increasingly crowded by other burgeoning options, such as art, music and reading. A lesser factor was the program's $5,000 cost for transportation and supervision, which is largely borne by the park district - which operates the Ray Williamson Pool under contract with the owners of the pool property, the school district.That dilemma is one that school officials are wrestling with, said school board chair Bruce Weiland.To me, the major issue is class time, Weiland said. I can get a petition with 100 art teachers who think that students would best benefit from another two weeks of art instruction. Or 100 music teachers who will tell you the same thing about music instruction. Or reading.To me, it's about the best use of the time for kids that you have in front of you.Weiland added, however, that the board's mind is far from closed to discussing new ways to resolve the issue - which is why Thursday's agenda includes a scheduled 20 minutes on the swim program.He believes, however, that the alternative offered by both districts when the programs were dropped - free vouchers for pool time for use during after-school hours - should be given a chance.Cooper, however, said vouchers have failed in the North Kitsap and Central Kitsap school districts. Not many parents can afford to rearrange their lives to be available to take their kids around during those hours, she said.It's her belief that the program is a casualty of recent fluctuations in state standardized testing scores, which carry a lot of weight in setting a tone for future government funding of school districts - something Bainbridge officials may be weighing heavily as they wade through current budget woes.Cooper's aim is to organize parental support of the program to the point that could guarantee 100 percent particpation of kids in the affected grades.This is something that's been around so long, and so many people have been in it or have children who have been in it, Cooper said. I've lived in Alaska, Florida, the Caribbean ... and none of the places have had as good a basic swimming skills and safety program as the one on Bainbridge Island.That says something about the value people here place on this program.The school board meets at 7 p.m. Oct. 26 in the Bainbridge High School library. "

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