Municipalities debate pool safety policies, disability accomodations


SHELBYVILLE, Ill. (WCIA) — The Shelbyville City Council may be weighing a potential change to the family aquatic center’s policy regarding personal flotation devices, but they’re not the only Illinois municipality doing so.

They join the City of Rock Island, which has been sued by a local mother regarding its 2018-era policy prohibiting the use of certain personal flotation devices at Whitewater Junction Aquatic Center.

While Shelbyville’s policy debate isn’t happening in court — so far it’s formally been in the city council chambers — it’s also a matter of addressing an existing policy that prohibits the use of personal flotation devices at the Shelbyville Family Aquatic Center.

According to the Shelbyville Daily Union, city council members’ discussion comes as the result of near-death drowning earlier this summer. The family of the two-year-old child who nearly drowned in a shallow end of the pool had brought a “puddle jumper” for their daughter; officials told them the device wasn’t allowed. That same day, she nearly drowned in the shallow end of the pool.

The policy barring the use of flotation devices in Shelbyville dates back to when the aquatic center was developed in the early 2000’s.

It deviates from the operation of similar pools in Springfield, Decatur and Champaign.

Rock Island’s policy — the one that’s landed them in court — was adopted in 2018.

According to the lawsuit filed in the Rock Island Central District Court in Illinois, that city adopted a policy that only allowed the use of specific flotation devices.

All of the allowed devices were Coast Guard approved, but a Coast Guard-approved ring was not — and that was the device plaintiff Cassandra Cleaveland hoped her son, who had hypochondroplasia, could use at the pool.

Hypochondroplasia causes shortened torso and limbs; in the lawsuit, Cleaveland said a life vest — one of the pool’s approved flotation devices — wouldn’t work for her son’s body type, and because of its potential to restrict his movements, could be more dangerous than just a ring.

The city didn’t make an exception for Cleaveland’s son.

She filed complaints with the Rock Island Human Rights Commission, then with the Illinois Attorney General’s Disability Rights Bureau, which via a letter last year sent her a letter, “stating that it had decided not to take further action on (her) complaint.”

What makes Cleaveland’s issue a little bit different than that of Shelbyville’s is the individualized aspect: Cleaveland, per the lawsuit, isn’t asking for the entire policy to be changed — she’s asking the city to make an exception specific to her son’s condition (hypochondroplasia).

By not doing so, the city has already discriminated against her son, the suit argues, and if no exception is made, would continue to do so.

The suit asks for a permanent injunction to allow Cleaveland’s son to use the pool with a Coast Guard-approved flotation ring.

In the meantime, Shelbyville officials are in the process of convening a committee to help city council members come to an answer regarding the city’s aquatic center policies. According to park commissioner Mark Shanks, there hasn’t been a definitive answer from insurance companies yet on whether pools that allow flotation devices are safer than those which prohibit their use.

Mayor Jeff Johnson did not immediately respond to calls asking about the progress on the committee.

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