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Athletics revokes pool time of special needs program

Pool closed for ten days following diarrhea accident, mechanical failure of pool heating system

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After one participant in a special-needs swimming class suffered a bout of diarrhea that required McGill Athletics to drain its pool, Making Waves – a weekly volunteer-run swimming program for kids with disabilities – was told not to return.

Later, Athletics decided that the Making Waves program may start again on April 1, after the backlog of 15 intramural water polo games is made up during the program’s timeslot on Sunday mornings.

Athletics Assistant Manager Jill Barker explained that, because Making Waves is not a McGill group and does not pay for use of the pool, it has a lower-priority claim to the space.

“Our number one priority is to our paying members,” said Barker, pointing out that the McGill pool is private. “Groups [like Making Waves] get the lowest priority. We bump non-paying groups all the time; some groups just have better status.”

But according to parents and instructors of the course, McGill Athletics mishandled the situation and continues to treat the group as a second-rate patron.

“It just feeds the stereotypes about disabled people being dirty,” said Nina, a single working mother with an autistic son enrolled in Making Waves. “They looked for the easy way out: ‘some special-needs kid crapped in the pool.’”

While fecal mishaps in pools are more common than most people know, they normally require minimum closure of pool space for sanitizing – usually just a few hours. However, this uncommonly messy instance required the pool to be drained and refilled. When the pool heater subsequently broke down, McGill teams and other patrons were displaced for ten days.

After the pool reopened, Nicki Fischer, president of Making Waves, received an email from Barker informing her that “the Blind Swim [currently called “Making Waves”] is cancelled.”

The abrupt decision shocked Fischer, who did not know that the idea of cancellation was being entertained, and had to call the parents of each participant to inform them that the program was cancelled. Parents were also surprised.

“Had they drafted a memo explaining the proposed scheme, I wouldn’t have had the same reaction,” Nina said, adding that she thought it was “tacky” of McGill Athletics to make such a decision without consulting Making Waves.

Barker later changed the cancellation to a “postponement,” until the backlog is addressed. But Nina said that the postponement is an unjust punishment.

“I have a kid who keeps pointing to his swimming shorts, and I have to try to communicate to him that he can’t use them,” Nina said. “It’s hard to have to deal with a situation like this when you’re trying to bring some regularity into their world.”

The program will recommence on April 1, which instructors of Making Waves – many of whom are McGill students – said they found inconvenient, since they would be writing exams at that time.

Director of McGill Athletics Derek Drummond said he offered to hire instructors for Making Waves during exam period free of charge.

He added that Making Waves had not been asked to pay for pool space that had to be rented to accommodate McGill’s Synchro and Swim teams, both of which had major competitions to prepare for during that week.

**Name has been changed by request