Sat, Dec

Still Locked Out

MY TURN - By all accounts, parents are still locked out – unless they agree to swim.

Parents who come eager to watch their youngsters at Peck Park Pool in San Pedro have been banned from inside the facility.  Parents at other Los Angeles city pools --that don’t yet have this rule in place – all I can say is: Beware!

The parent-banning practice can be implemented with something as simple as a change in management. And while parents for years had been allowed in to watch their children at Peck, a management change is exactly what launched the new policy.

Immediately after my story ran on this practice earlier this month in CityWatch and Theunderdogforkids blog, I received a call from head of the Los Angeles aquatics division. Trish Delgado informed me they would start allowing parents whose children are on the swim team or in swim lessons inside on the bleachers.

Other than that, she needed time –with no deadline -- to make any other changes.

“We are looking at the close of the summer,” Delgado said, explaining that the aquatics staff will be busy shutting the doors of seasonal pools. “We’ll look at it. We’ll work on it in the fall and have that in place. I can’t make it happen in a month. I just can’t be held to a timeline.”

My swimming arms were still ruffled, because I couldn’t understand why we were still eliminating parents whose children were in free swim – but accepting the parents whose kids were in lessons or on the swim team. The whole practice does not  bode well.  After working with a group to turn the pool around from its headier days, I don’t want to see it go backwards.

So on Tuesday I went back to check  and not a single parent was inside the facility. No one had been told that if that their child was on the swim team or in swim lessons they could sit on the bleachers inside. This didn't happen, Delgado said, because they couldn’t distinguish the parents.

While this parent-banning (unless they are swimming) isn’t done at all the city pools, Delgado added, it is done at many and often is determined by the pool deck’s size. Other cities, she explained, also have this approach such as Lakewood and Carson.

That doesn’t explain why parents were once allowed all around the facility prior to its latest manager, Richard Rincon, who came to the pool two years ago, but became serious about the outside policy this year.

Rincon was not allowed to make a statement.

Many parents said they are still unnerved by the practice.

San Pedro High Principal Jeanette Stevens praised the swim programs, but said after she was tossed outside she felt so uncomfortable  she found herself bringing her children less and less.

Not good. This is a woman well trained in emergency services and the type of parent we want at our pools.

In the past the lack of parents at Peck allowed gang members to infiltrate the pool and take it over. Encouraging the adults to return helped eliminate the criminal element.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Rick Hamilton, a respiratory therapist with extensive training in medical emergency services. He has two bad knees and a cane. “Instead of being ten feet from my daughter, I’m  300 feet. This is about common sense and common courtesy.”

He dislikes being so far away from his daughter, Alexandria, 10. But his wife, Rovita, said she wouldn’t mind if the facility would provide shade outside. She was sweating under a baking afternoon sun.

Mother Falana Monroe, whose 10-year-old son James is taking beginning lessons, said she would love to sit inside because she strains to hear what the lifeguards are teaching her son. If she had that information, she explained, she could reinforce it when taking him during free swim.

“It would be nice if I could sit inside and be so helpful,” Monroe said. “Our goal is to get James strong enough so he can be on the swim team.”

The reasons parents aren’t allowed in are numerous, Delgado said, including the ability of lifeguards to attend to emergencies on the pool deck, concerns that parents will track in bacteria with their clothes and street shoes and the fact the Peck Pool had a change in management. In addition, some parents interfere with swim lessons and at other pools – have apparently said they were going to sit and watch their children avoiding the $2.25 fee – and then went inside and got into the pool.

When I returned Tuesday, only a  handful of parents were there.

What aquatics officials have done so far is planted more benches in the grassy area. However, the gate to the pool from the grassy area remained locked and parents had to go around the facility to get inside.

Father Rick Hamilton said he found some of reasoning flimsy at best. He understands bacteria issues having worked in emergency rooms and hospitals. When parents are involved when he's working, he said,  he finds it frustrating when they are  interfere  and cry – but they have right to be there. Taking them out of the equation isn’t right.

I guess that’s exactly how I feel.

More than a decade ago, the parents left the equation at the pool when they weren’t welcome. They dropped their kids off in the morning and picked them up at 6. What happened then wasn’t a pretty picture. The lifeguards became babysitters, mentors and parents and an ugly element took over.

Bringing parents back changed the flavor of the pool for the better. Parents bonded with other parents, building a sense of community around a pool that once never existed. To avoid destroying this, I’d like to make some suggestions to the city having been part of the early movement to makeover the facility.

•     Don’t ban the parents from the pool. Instead, tell them they can sit on the back bleachers but can’t roam the pool the deck. Also, open up the square patch of grass in the back – by removing the giant fence so parents don’t feel like they are locked in a cage. Then give parents the choice of the grass area or the bleachers where their children can come visit them.

•    For those trying to cheat the swim fee charge – which always is a miniscule amount of people and everyone gets punished --  either stamp the hand of those who’ve paid or provide them with a bracelet that can be cutaway later.

•    Have a meeting with the parents and explain the actions. Ask parents for their input on ways to make this work. After all, many parents are sore because they feel shunned and punished. They would be thrilled to be asked for suggestions.

In the meantime, Fermina Gutierrez, whose sons Guadalupe, 10, and Demetrio, 18, both swim at Peck, said she’s not as bothered as other parents, but added she would like the choice of coming inside.

“It’s OK,” she said. “But sometimes I’d like to see them closer.”

Brand new to the scene is Josephine Lemus, who brought her 7-year-old daughter Dayanarah Villegas.  She was surprised that she couldn’t sit inside, but unlike other parents she hadn’t had the chance to enjoy that in the past.

“I just thought it was odd,” Lemus said. “It’s not good. I’d definitely like to be inside.”

(Diana Chapman is a CityWatch contributor and has been a writer/journalist for nearly thirty years. She has written for magazines, newspapers and the best-seller series, Chicken Soup for the Soul. You can reach her at:      [email protected] or her website: theunderdogforkids.blogspot.com) –cw

Tags: swimming pool lockout, Peck Park Pool, San Pedro

Vol 9 Issue 68
Pub: Aug 26, 2011