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'Common sense'

Motivated by a near-drowning in a school swimming pool, New Jersey has enacted a law requiring that swim teachers at least know how to swim.

The measure, which was signed last month by Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican, requires the state school board and the commissioner of health to set regulations to ensure swim teachers in public schools have "appropriate swimming and first aid skills necessary to protect the health and safety of students."

Last March, 11-year-old Rajeem Denson nearly drowned in a pool at the 650-student Holland Middle School in Trenton, even though two teachers were supervising him and his 6th grade class at the time.

"One of them couldn't swim, and one of them refused to jump into the pool," said Rich McClellan, the chief of staff for Sen. Shirley K. Turner, the Democrat who sponsored the bill.

Wondering how a teacher who couldn't swim was left to supervise swimming children, Ms. Turner's staff did some research and found New Jersey had no certification requirements for swim teachers.

Hence, the legislation. "This is a triumph for common sense in government," Mr. McClellan said.

Thinking ahead

A group of school reform advocates in California is already working on yet another ballot initiative for a future election season.

The effort, which is being led by state school board member Tim Draper, would expand school choice options for parents. The group has set up a World Wide Web site to seek input on how the initiative should be worded.

Mr. Draper's introductory statement on the site promises that a "school choice initiative" will qualify for the March 2000 ballot. The group, which is calling itself Localchoice2000, is not yet offering a specific plan. Instead, it is depending on the responses to its Web site for direction. But from the dozens of responses posted so far, it's not clear how much help the advocates will get. Wrote one site visitor: "I support government monopoly schools. Parents cannot be trusted. Liberty and choice are dangerous to society."

The initiative campaign's backers plan to seek permission from the state to be the first ballot measure in California to electronically gather all 400,000 signatures needed to qualify for the state ballot.

The site can be found at

--Mary Ann Zehr & Robert C. Johnston

Vol. 18, Issue 14, Page 18

Published in Print: November 25, 1998, as State Journal

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