After fatal pool visit, rules on taking kids swimming about to change for day cares

BISMARCK - New rules drafted one month after a 5-year-old girl was found unresponsive in a public pool in Velva last summer will soon require North Dakota child care providers to obtain written permission from parents before taking their children...

BISMARCK – New rules drafted one month after a 5-year-old girl was found unresponsive in a public pool in Velva last summer will soon require North Dakota child care providers to obtain written permission from parents before taking their children swimming.

The changes, which will take effect April 1 if they clear the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Committee on Monday, also will require that providers have policies in place that ensure the health and safety of children during aquatic activities, including staff-to-child ratios that are “appropriate to the ages and swimming ability of the children.”

In total, the state Department of Human Services is proposing 51 rule changes that will expand background checks for child care providers, require annual training on preventing sudden infant death and require training in CPR and first aid for emergency designees and substitute staff.

Eighteen of the new rules stem from changes in federal law, said Rebecca Eberhardt, the department’s early childhood services administrator.

“The overall goal is really just to ensure that minimal health and safety standards are being met and the protection of the children,” she said.


The Early Childhood Services Advisory Board began drafting the rules related to swimming on July 9, after 5-year-old Gracelyn Aschenbrenner was found unresponsive June 8 in the Velva city pool. The girl remained on life support until she died July 1 at a Fargo hospital.

Eberhardt said DHS officials were looking at updating the rules before that incident, noting many states have adopted rules regulating aquatic activities.

Gracelyn’s mother told a state Bureau of Criminal Investigation agent that she thought the children at the KidQuarters day care in Velva were going to play in a sprinkler at the center, not go to a public pool, according to an affidavit filed in McHenry County District Court.

KidQuarters operator Heather Tudor is charged with negligent homicide, felony child neglect or abuse and operating a child care facility without a license. The charges allege Tudor was previously made aware that the girl didn’t know how to swim and would need a lifejacket or other floatation device if she went to the pool.

Tudor’s jury trial is set for April 4. A proposed order was filed Monday with a petition to enter a plea of guilty, but it’s not clear to what charge or charges. Court staff said the order was not publicly available Friday because the judge hadn’t reviewed it yet. McHenry County State’s Attorney Cassey Breyer and Tudor’s attorney, Paul Probst, did not return phone messages seeking comment Friday. Tudor’s next appearance is set for March 21.

Charges also have been filed against a McHenry County social worker who handled the KidQuarters license and against five current or former DHS employees, including Director Maggie Anderson. The charges accuse DHS staff of impeding the investigation and allowing KidQuarters to operate unlicensed, which Anderson has denied through through her attorney. Court dates are pending in those cases.

In a separate incident, two 4-year-old boys nearly drowned in November 2014 during a field trip to a hotel pool in Casselton while under the supervision of a West Fargo day care. Cass County Social Services issued two correction orders to the day care after Eberhardt’s predecessor at DHS concluded that while the staff-to-child ratio at the pool was legal, supervision was inadequate and the children were in a harmful environment.

Eberhardt said the new rules won’t change the acceptable staff-to-child ratio during aquatic activities. At a minimum, it must be the same ratio they would have onsite at their child care program, and it’s up to the provider to decide if additional supervision is warranted, she said.


The parental permission required to take children swimming also must include a disclosure from parents on how well the child can swim.

“It’s up to the parent to disclose that information on their child’s swimming ability,” Eberhardt said.

North Dakota currently has nearly 1,600 licensed child care providers. The state requires a license when early childhood services are provided for more than five children under the age of 12 or more than three children younger than 24 months.

Rep. Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo, who chairs the Legislature’s interim Human Services Committee, has called for an administrative review of DHS. Gov. Jack Dalrymple hasn’t ruled out the possibility of an independent, third-party review.


What To Read Next
State lawmakers hear from both sides as parents and educators weigh in on the potential impact of the bill
“We see that when things happen in the coastal areas, a few years later, they start trending toward the Midwest,” said Rep. Ben Krohmer, serving his first term in the House.
Stark County prosecutors prepare for pretrial conferences and jury trials scheduled for March
The investigation is ongoing.