Is Swimming Mandatory in High School? (Explained)


The world is about 70% water, which means that the land we spend most of our lives on is only one-third of the entire world. There’s no doubt that we should learn how to swim as early as possible by taking classes through an external entity or school curriculum. This begs the question, “Is swimming mandatory in high school?”

Swimming is not nationally mandated for high schoolers. The directives for high school swimming are determined by the state, city, or individual school itself. Certain schools may include swimming as part of their mandatory curriculum, whereas other schools may not due to logistical issues.

As of late, there’s been a strong push for swimming to be a mandatory part of the high school curriculum. But, unfortunately, this doesn’t seem like a feasible possibility at the moment. Below, we will analyze why swimming hasn’t been incorporated into the high school curriculum at the national level, along with ways to see if swimming is required at your local school.

Why Swimming Requirements Vary Among High Schools

There are various ways to convince teenagers to be physically active, even when they’re already well into their high school years. Physical education is one of the best sources of persuasion, as it exposes students to many different sports and physical activities. This is the underlying reason why physical education is part of the standard high school curriculum all over the country.

In certain schools, swimming has been integrated into the physical education curriculum. There’s no denying that swimming is a valuable skill to learn in high school or even earlier than that. Knowing how to swim can be your saving grace if you unexpectedly find yourself in the water during an emergency.

Even if you decide against taking up swimming as a sport, it’s a life skill that will prove helpful later down the road.

Aside from its practical uses, swimming is also a unique way for students to enjoy their high school’s physical education classes because they can branch away from the norm. It’s always nice to spend time away from the usual sweaty gym clothes and feel the refreshing sensation of jumping into the water.

Every high school board knows that instituting swimming classes would benefit their students greatly, but certain factors prevent the institution of these swimming classes. Oftentimes, these factors lie beyond the control of the school board.

For this reason, some schools offer swimming classes and others that don’t. In some instances, swimming may be a physical education unit that students can choose to opt into. With all these different scenarios, it can be difficult as a student or parent to make sense of whether swimming is mandatory.

To help you better understand this controversial topic, let’s go over the most prominent reasons why the high school curriculum regarding swimming varies so much from school to school.

Curriculum is Largely Determined by City, County, & State Boards

The most prominent reason why many schools do not have swimming as a mandatory physical education unit is that their school curriculum is primarily left up to the city, county, or state board where they’re located (source).

In short, this means that these schools—public schools especially—do not have a free hand in choosing whether or not they want to include swimming as a compulsory class.

For this reason, high schools must comply with the supervising city, county, or state board if they decide for or against including swimming as part of the curriculum, regardless of what their stance may be on the matter.

However, it’s important to note that there may be certain exceptions to this. For example, even if swimming isn’t technically mandatory according to the curriculum, the school may still include it if they have the available resources and budget. This leads us to our next point.

Not All High Schools Have Access to a Pool

Logistically speaking, not all schools can have swimming as a class that students must take because they lack the necessary tools, namely an easily accessible swimming pool.

If the school doesn’t own a pool or have one nearby, there’s no practical way they can conduct an instructional swimming class. It’s as simple as that. The high school curriculum could make all the allowances it wants, but it won’t matter whatsoever if the school doesn’t have an accessible pool to begin with.

Under these circumstances, the only possible way for the school to institute swimming classes is to construct a pool themselves, which we will discuss next.

Pool Construction, Maintenance, & Instruction is Expensive

The truth of the matter is that pools are quite expensive for schools to have. Not only will pool construction cost the school a considerable sum of money, but maintenance is extremely costly as well (source).

For one, you have to consider the hefty water bill expenses of keeping such a sizable area filled with water. With so many students entering and exiting the pool, keeping this water clean will cost quite a bit of money as well.

Even the instruction is expensive. Hiring an accredited swimming instructor can be more costly than hiring your standard PE teacher. Since teaching teenagers how to swim for the first time is such a risky endeavor, it’s in the best interest of schools not to cut corners on hiring well-qualified instructors.

All things considered, most public schools will not be able to construct and maintain a pool on school grounds because of how draining it is on the school’s finances.

They would need to have a sizable budget specifically allocated for the pool or reach out to a generous donor that’s willing to bear these hefty expenses. Whatever the case may be, there will be a substantial amount of money involved.

How to Determine if Your High School Mandates Swimming

Now that you know that the high school curriculum concerning swimming varies tremendously, you’re likely wondering whether or not your local school considers swimming to be part of its mandatory curriculum. To find out this information for yourself, you can implement the following tips.

  • Read Through the School Curriculum – This is by far the most efficient way for you to tell whether or not the school mandates swimming. The school curriculum specifically indicates which classes are obligatory.
  • Talk to Your Guidance Counselor – Your guidance counselor is there to help you. Scheduling a meeting with them is fairly easy to do. They can give you the straightforward answer you’re looking for about which classes are mandatory and which classes are optional.
  • Ask an Upperclassmen or Graduate – Older students and graduates have a wealth of knowledge to offer regarding this subject because they’ve already gone through it themselves. If you have a sibling or friend that’s older, don’t be afraid to ask for their input.
  • Find Out if Your School Has a Pool – The presence of a pool on the school campus itself is a telltale sign that swimming is likely a mandatory physical education unit that all students must take. However, it’s worth bearing in in mind that this isn’t the most reliable indication. There’s a chance that the pool may be exclusively reserved for athletic purposes. For this reason, you should prioritize the tips above.

Can You Get Out of Swimming if It’s Mandatory?

If you’re someone that doesn’t enjoy swimming, the thoughts racing through your mind are probably something along the lines of, “Can I get out of swimming even if it’s a mandatory class?”

The first thing you need to understand is that the swimming instructor doesn’t have a say in this matter. Their main responsibility is teaching the class to the students, not dealing with the school curriculum. Consequently, your swimming teacher probably isn’t the best person to talk to if you want to get out of your school’s mandatory swimming class.

Instead, a far better option would be to schedule a meeting with your school counselor. Counselors are there to listen to your educational concerns and help you find ways to resolve these issues effectively. Deciding whether or not swimming classes are right for you definitely falls within this category.

If you have a viable reason for wanting to get out of swimming class, your counselor should be able to find accommodations for you. Some students have aquaphobia, for example, a condition where being near water causes excess anxiety (source).

For those of you that have a mild fear of swimming and wish to overcome it, click over to How to Get Over the Fear of Swimming: 9-Step Guide.

Other students have a physical disability that prevents them from participating in water-based activities. For these students, being in the water may actually pose a health risk.

Whatever your reasons may be, it’s recommended that you communicate them with your school counselor so that they can work out a solution for you. You shouldn’t be put into a situation where you feel unsafe.

Sources: 1 2 3

Austin Carmody

I am the owner of HydroPursuit. I enjoy kicking back and getting out on the water as much as I can in my free time.

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