2004-12-31 / Community

Activist Finds DOE Not Responsive To Water Safety Program

By Howard Schwach

NYPD helicopters are often called to respond to water rescues on beachfront
NYPD helicopters are often called to respond to water rescues on beachfront Far Rockaway activist Floyd Smith thought that he had an idea that would be accepted with no problems by the city’s Department of Education (DOE).

Smith, the president of the small civic group, Concerned Citizens of Rockaway, took a look at the number of water-related problems in past summers and decided that one solution would be for the Department of Education to include in its physical education program a half hour or so of ocean swimming safety information such as not swimming when a lifeguard is not present on the beach.

“It seems like such a simple and effective idea, I did not think it would be a problem,” Smith told The Wave earlier in the year. “It would not cost the city a penny and it might save some lives.”

Smith found, however, that while he got support from many local politicians, the DOE bureaucracy was not exactly attuned to his suggestion.

Initially, the DOE passed Smith’s idea off to the Department of Parks and Recreation, where that department’s leaders quickly buried it.

On December 15, Smith heard from the Department of Education in the person of Taneka Miller, who was billed as an “associate.”

Miller wrote: “Every school under our jurisdiction has developed a safety plan on record. City beaches fall under the jurisdiction of the Parks Department. A beach safety program would have to be developed via that department in conjunction with the New York City Police Department.”

A quick check by The Wave revealed that not one of the mandated school safety plans in Rockaway schools includes a section on water safety, nor does any discuss teaching the pupils to use the ocean beaches in a proper manner.

The Parks Commissioner, Adrian Benepe, wrote a letter to Smith on December 22.

“Water safety is one of out most basic missions. We use a variety of means to educate the public about the dangers of unsupervised swimming,” Benepe’s letter said. “We promote the life-saving benefits of swimming skills and we will continue to work with responsible individuals and organizations to accomplish these goals.”

Locals seem to be taking a more interested approach in the program than the city officials.

Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska, in a December letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, wrote:

“It has been suggested that the city take the reasonable step each school year (Spring) to inform students of the dangers of swimming without a lifeguard on duty and inform them of the potential dangers of not following the lifeguard’s instructions. Putting aside a few minutes each school year is well worth the lives it may save.”

The Wave has also editorialized on the subject, urging the Department of Education to develop a program that would warn students of the potential dangers of swimming on our ocean beaches.

Smith plans to pursue the implementation of his plan despite the recent letters from city officials.

“This is just too important to let go of,” Smith said. “There are lives at stake.”

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