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Jacksonville Councilman's Bill Withdrawn; City To Sponsor 1,600 Swim Lessons

Lindsey Kilbride
Swim instructor Quinn Riesch teaches Loralei and Mark to swim, Tuesday.

A Jacksonville city councilman is withdrawing legislation that would have allowed for thousands more kids to get free swimming lessons, after his colleagues didn’t support the measure. However, the city is already funding lessons for more than 1,500 children.

Seven-year-old Loralei and her little brother, Mark, were taking swimming lessons at the Mandarin YMCA Tuesday.

Their mother Shieryl Lahey was standing nearby watching. She said when she was a kid she nearly drowned and had to be resuscitated, so she’s had a fear of the water ever since. She said she’s taking lessons herself.

“I want them to be prepared so that they can not go through what I went through,” Lahey said

Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis wants every kid to have this opportunity, even if their parents can’t afford it. He was asking for $200,000 from  the city for swim lessons and transportation for 6,000 kids. He said this is especially important after two Jacksonville drownings this month.

“Those parents will never, ever see their child get their diploma,” he said.

Drowning is the leading cause of death for Florida children ages 1-4, and second leading cause for kids ages 5-9.

The lessons are designed to first teach survival tactics, so children can at least get to the side of the pool safely if they fall in.

But Mayor Lenny Curry didn’t support emergency funding them from the city’s general fund. The city’s Chief Financial Officer Mike Weinstein told city council members last week the mayor would instead like to fund year-round swim lessons in next year’s budget.

“We would have facilities spread throughout the county, open all year for swimming lessons,” Weinstein said.

Dennis’ colleagues agreed on waiting for the mayor’s plan, so he withdrew the bill.

“It’s a little disappointing” Dennis said, “because I wanted it right now.”

Still, this summer, city funding will provide lessons for around 1,600 kids. That’s because during the last budgeting cycle, Dennis requested $25,000 go toward the lessons and since then the city found a $10,000 match from Safe Kids Northeast Florida.

The YMCA is also partnering with the city and other organizations, including Firehouse Subs, to provide free lessons for 940 Northeast Florida kids at city pools and other locations.

Last year, the city funded lessons for just 375 children. In 2015, 1,800 children received free lessons.

Dennis said he’s holding Curry to his promise.

“He’s made a commitment that he’s going to roll out a plan that will exceed all of our expectations,” Dennis said.

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Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at@lindskilbride

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.