The Bangor School Department is expected to tighten its standards for water-related student field trips this year, after a Lewiston middle school student drowned in June while swimming in a lake during a school outing.
“This is an example where it really felt right to do a review of our own policies,” said Superintendent Betsy Webb, who proposed the changes.
The new guidelines, which are slated for final approval by the School Committee on Sept. 26, were inspired by recommendations from a two-part report published this summer by Lewiston law enforcement and independent water safety experts.
The report recounted the investigation into 13-year-old Rayan Issa’s drowning on June 12 while swimming in Range Pond on a class trip. It details the district’s policy at that time and suggests updating precautionary standards for Lewiston and other Maine districts, though Lewiston has yet to change its policy.
The report found that “few, if any, Maine school districts have specifically addressed water-related field trips in their school board policies.”
Bangor is one of them. Its policy includes general field trip supervision guidelines, but lacks rules for how faculty and staff should handle water-related field trips.
Webb is proposing that Bangor require students or faculty expected to swim recreationally at a lake or waterpark “to demonstrate water competency” before they’re told they can swim by a certified lifeguard. Students are required to be paired with a buddy while swimming, and will have to respond audibly as buddies when the lifeguard periodically calls upon them, according to the policy draft.
Outlining these parameters is necessary, Webb said, even though classes in her district only take a handful of field trips near water each year and none are similar to the Lewiston Middle School field trip to Range Pond State Park. No Bangor district students have drowned while under school supervision, she added.
Adopting the new rules will mean taking more precautions even for trips such as the one a middle school STEM class will take to study invasive crabs in tidal pools, Webb said. On field trips like those, students will be able to wade into water above their knees but only if a lifeguard is present, according to the policy draft. If no lifeguard is present, “all participants are prohibited from entering the water in any way,” it reads.
“We can learn in times that are great and in times where there’s a tragedy,” Webb said. “This was just an opportunity to improve what we currently have.”
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