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For some DL seniors, it's sink or swim time

No swimming: DLHS seniors Heather Loberg, Sarah Malikowski and Kali Olsen. BRIAN BASHAM/TRIBUNE

Detroit Lakes senior Sarah Malikowski has known for years that swimming is required at Detroit Lakes High School, but that’s not stopping her from fighting it.

“I’d rather get a college credit than take a swimming class. It’s a waste of time, I think,” she said.

She has even gone so far as to contact a lawyer about her rights regarding being forced to pass a swimming class to graduate from high school.

Years ago the Detroit Lakes School Board passed a motion that required all students to complete level 5 swimming before graduation. Students could also test out of swimming without taking the classes, or they could get a doctor’s note if there was some other reason they weren’t able to meet the swimming requirements.

“It’s ridiculous that we’re the only school around here (that requires swimming),” Malikowski said.

She said she has taken swimming lessons in the past and knows how to swim, but it’s simply the fact that she doesn’t feel she should have to take the classes or test to graduate. She said she’d rather take another post-secondary class at M State than waste her time taking swimming lessons. There have been various rumors as to why the requirement was implemented in the first place. Some say it was because the district was looking to get a swimming pool built in the school. Others have said it’s because the Detroit Lakes area is so saturated with lakes, it was for safety precautions. Superintendent Doug Froke said he’s not even sure when or why the requirement was implemented.

“Obviously it’s been there for a while. I think it’s been in for a long time,” he added, stressing “long.”

He said he’s heard several suggestions as to why the requirement was originally put into place, but that he can’t say one for sure with any accuracy.

“It’s a good life skill. Can’t debate that,” he said.

But, Malikowski isn’t the only senior fighting the graduation requirement. Heather Loberg said she is trying to test out of swimming as required, but has yet to pass the test.

“I’ve taken the test once, and the teacher was so picky on everything, I didn’t pass,” she said last week. “It’s so difficult; I just don’t want to fail again.”

She said her schedule has been so busy that she hasn’t had the opportunity to take any swimming classes through the high school, so she’s attempting again to test out of them this week.

“I understand where they’re coming from and wanting us to know how to swim, because we’re surrounded by so many lakes and known for our beach, but I think there’s a fine line between personally wanting to swim and the school getting into that,” she said.

“I just feel they are crossing the boundaries. If you can’t swim, you can’t graduate, and I think that’s a little far.”

Malikowski brought petitions to school, which Loberg said she helped circulate, to get the school to stop requiring swimming for graduation. Loberg said there are many students, whether they’ve tested out or not, who are against the requirement.

“I’ve had captains of the swim team that help me practice, and I didn’t pass because what they taught me is different than what they teach you in swimming class, and they (the swim team members) said it’s absolutely ridiculous.”

The seniors’ struggles aren’t going unheard either.       

“The demands of the high school curriculum have changed,” Froke said. “We’re finding more and more kids trying to do other things with the curricular offerings at the high school. They want to make sure they get the classes they want, especially as it relates to our advanced placement offerings and some of our post-secondary opportunities that we have.”

It’s not that uncommon for Detroit Lakes seniors to be looking at the last nine weeks of school and struggling to meet the swimming requirement in time – not just this year either.

Another hurdle they are seeing, Froke said, is students who move into the district mid-high school and suddenly have to take swimming classes or tests.

“Then you have to hustle and try and fit that requirement in and it’s become more and more difficult over the past four and five years for the high school to make sure the kids are meeting that requirement,” he said.

With that said, at the school board meeting Monday, the board heard the first reading of revisions to the district’s graduation requirements that would change the age-old rule.

Under the provisions, students would no longer be required to take the nine-week swimming course, but would instead place swimming instruction within the ninth-grade physical education class, which is a graduation requirement.

“Phy ed is only a nine-week semester, so the entire semester will not be dedicated to swimming,” said Detroit Lakes High School Principal Steve Morben. “But instead, we’re probably looking at a shortened unit working on basic stroke instruction and then also building in some safety pieces.”

Board members questioned Morben on whether or not students could have the option to test out of the swimming instruction or be given credit for the class in the event students have already achieved level five swimming, but at this point details like that remain up in the air.

“That’s something we can take a look at,” Morben said. “Parents always have an option to remove their student from particular instruction if they are opposed to it, but we do then need to provide an alternative option for those kids. If they’re not going to be participating in the swimming portion of the class, what are they going to be doing?”

Morben said the traditional nine-week swimming course will still be offered for those students interested in taking it.

The board will vote on the policy change during its June meeting.

While that will change requirements for the 2013-14 school year, it doesn’t apply to seniors this year, who still need to pass swimming before next week if they want their diploma.

“Basically what the issue there is it’s a fairness issue. We’re down to a couple of kids who are yet to meet the requirement who still can or opt out,” Froke said. “But we’ve got kids who have committed resources to meet the requirement for this year and have done all the right things we’ve asked them to do, and so it becomes a fairness issue.”

Article written by Pippi Mayfield and Paula Quam