Everybody out of the pool.
That was the announcement at high schools across the state, including all of those in . , , Hillcrest and for not complying with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act.
The closures came as a surprise to the district, which has been working since June to meet regulations. There was a miscommunication within the district offices, District 228 Schools Superintendent Bill Kendall said Thursday at an emergency board meeting to discuss the issue.
“We were aware that this was happening, but I was told there was no problem, that everything was OK,” Kendall said. “I thought we were proceeding appropriately. Monday I got the letter from the (Illinois Department of Public Health) saying that our pools were closed and that was the first I heard about it.”
The board also heard from parents and students at the special Thursday meeting held at . Closures have been devastating for parents and athletes because of the disruptions they've caused for swimming and pool teams, they said.
“You can hear how upset everybody is over this,” Cindy Hesse, president of the Tinley Park Swim Boosters, said. “Some of these girls go to state, they're that good. They have recruiters looking at them. Every amount of time missed is an opportunity missed for them to further their education, by getting the opportunity to get a scholarship.”
For Oak Forest swim team members Lauren Stryzek and Leanne Latocha, the closures have put a dark cloud over a promising season. Stryzek, a senior, found no solace in the board's notion that the pools will hopefully reopen in time for the Bengals' Oct. 27 conference meet. She was unexpectedly forced to exit the pool during practice the day it was closed.
The closures also are forcing coordinators to rearrange teams' senior nights— a tradition that for the first time will not be held at the schools' pools.
“Our season will be over," Stryzek said, fighting back tears. "Conference, for some people, that's their last meet. They don't swim sectionals. Not everybody gets to go ... I'm a senior and I can't even have a senior night. Our senior night is in the cafeteria [now], what does that have to do with swimming? Nothing.”
Latocha, a sophomore who competed in the IHSA State meet as a freshman, said that although the alternatives to the four District 228 schools are helping the teams, they're not helping her. She can't practice at the Shepard pool with the rest of her teammates, she said.
“ ... I had an asthma attack today and the past two times I've been there,” she said. “So, it's not worth my health swimming there. I went to state last year as a freshman and now I can't swim at practice.”
Latocha said that if things don't improve or a new alternative isn't offered, she may have to leave the Bengals team for the rest of the year.
The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act states that all pool and spa drains must comply with anti-entrapment regulations for safety. It stems from the 2002 drowning death of 7-year-old Virginia Graeme Baker. Her hair was sucked into a hot tub's drain system and she wasn't able to free herself.
Work to bring the district's pools up to code is scheduled to begin Oct. 12, and comes with a $53,270 price tag. It's expected to take at least two weeks, although Kendall said the district is penciled in for inspection by the Illinois Department of Public Health Oct. 20. If the inspection does take place around that date, there is still a chemical test that must be passed before the pools can officially reopen.
The company doing the work has promised two crews for the district, with hopes that up to four crews will be available to complete all the job simultaneously. If only two crews are available, Kendall said a tough decision will have to be made.
“When that time comes, we're going to sit down and talk about it,” he said. “I'll make the hard decision, 50 percent of the district will be thanking me and 50 percent will be yelling at me.”
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