Apr 3, 2024 - News

St. Paul's free swim lesson slots filled up in two hours, frustrating parents

Illustration of Olympic swim lanes

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

St. Paul's new free swim lesson program made a big splash on its first day of signups Monday, with more than 700 slots filling up in just two hours.

Why it matters: Drowning is a leading cause of death for young children nationwide.

  • St. Paul is hoping that making lessons free for more residents will reduce the risk.

How It went: Signup requests flooded the system, with more than 300 spots claimed within the first 15 minutes of Monday's registration period, Parks and Recreation spokesperson Clare Cloyd told Axios.

  • The department's aquatics center got more than 900 calls and close to 300 voicemails from parents.

Yes, but: The rollout frustrated some people, as some lesson options filled up within minutes of the registration portal's 9am launch.

  • A technical glitch that showed some users an incorrect error message once those classes were full compounded the problem.

What they're saying: City officials said they were thrilled with the high interest, but acknowledged that the rollout could have been smoother.

  • "We understand the frustration this may have caused and apologize for the confusion as we continue to adjust to our new registration system," Parks and Recreation director Andy Rodriguez said in a statement.

State of the pools: The city council approved Mayor Melvin Carter's proposal to spend $250,000 to make city lessons free for kids 10 and under as part of the 2024 budget.

  • The city-run program used to set families back $75 to $100 for eight lessons, per The Pioneer Press. Costs for private programs are even higher.

The other side: Jacquie Mercer told the Pioneer Press that she wrote to the mayor after failing to get spots for her two boys, despite logging on right at 9am and spending two hours trying to reach the department by phone.

  • "The decision to implement a first-come-first-serve registration system for the swimming lessons was a reckless misjudgment," she wrote. "It should have been obvious that such a system would favor those with fast internet connections and ample free time, disadvantaging many residents."

What's next: The parks department will work with community groups to distribute about 1,000 additional spots to kids from communities "who have historically experienced barriers to water safety programs and recreation."

  • Cloyd said while available pool space and instructors limit the number of lessons they can offer, they will "also look into potentially additional resourcing possibilities for this initiative."

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