Rules of the pools... what you need to know about using DPR community pools

Upshur Pool, 4300 Arkansas Ave NW

This article has been updated on July 11, 2018 with a statement by the resident who signed the teen into the pool.

The Department of Parks and Recreation has 21 outdoor pools and 11 indoor pools, and they all have the same rules for using them, including what you can wear, what toys you can bring into the water, and what you can do while there. If you don't follow the rules, you could be asked to leave.

This came to the forefront recently after an incident at the Upshur pool on June 9th when a youth was asked to leave the DPR aquatic facility for not wearing appropriate swim wear. According to a series of tweets at the pool that day, it appeared the youth was kicked out only for what she was wearing. Petworth News followed up with DPR to get the story, and in doing so, got clarification on the dos and do nots of DC's pool rules (below).

According to John Stokes, DPR's Deputy Director for Community Engagement, the youth had attempted to go swimming in a "dri-fit" sports shirt, which is against the rules. At the time they spoke to her she wasn't swimming but was sitting on a lounge chair. Staff went over to tell her she couldn't swim in the clothing, and she began to get verbally abusive and made threats against DPR staff and the adult who signed her into the pool. Staff called MPD to remove the young woman, but she ended up leaving before they arrived.

Jason Cherkis, who sent the tweets that reported this issue, said that DPR's version of the incident is not correct.

"DPR is lying about what happened. I was there and witnessed the incident," Jason wrote via Twitter direct message. "The teenager was minding her own business when the staff suddenly approached her and asked her to leave. She wasn’t trying to go swimming. She was just laying on a lounge chair. When she questioned them, they said they were calling the police. The teenager did not do anything to warrant her eviction or threat of police action. I would just add that the two lifeguards who threatened this teenager were not wearing regulation swimwear. Both were wearing jeans and t-shirts.”

Update: Petworth News was contacted by a woman who claimed to be the person who signed in the teens to the pool, and witnessed part of the incident. She was asked by the teens to sign them in (minors require adult permission), and was told by DPR staff that she would be responsible for the teens, to which she agreed. She said she did not witness the beginning of the altercation, but got involved when DPR staff asked the teens to leave. 

"I wanted to believe that the lifeguards were making an excuse, and I tried to intervene on her behalf," the woman wrote to Petworth News, "but then as I was speaking with the guards she came over and started speaking in extremely vulgar terms to them. So I had to concede that they were right to ask her to leave. However, I wasn't there when the guards initially approached her, so I don't know why they approached her in the first place, before she became verbally abusive in front of me. It is true that she was not trying to swim and was just sitting in a chair. The lifeguards said at the time that she was rude to one of them when she came in, someone she apparently knew from outside the pool. (And it's true that she targeted a lot of her verbal abuse toward him.) All in all I just felt bad for everyone -- I'm sure there's a reason she felt triggered to speak like that, and at the same time she really was extremely inappropriate to the lifeguards."


So what are the rules?

From experience, people wear different kinds of bathing suits at the Upshur pool, with t-shirts worn by some parents and kids to keep safe from the sun. In the many years I've attended the Upshur pool, I've seen staff reprimand only one adult for her clothes, even while I've seen other parents and kids wearing dri-fit type shirts or t-shirts. While anecdotal, last summer there was a much more laissez faire approach by staff to the rules, between shirts worn in the pool, balls, water guns and other toys thrown about. However, last year, DPR was under a staff shortage, so it's possible some rules were skipped for expediency.

This year, DPR is fully staffed with 130 lifeguards across the city's network of aquatic centers. These newly trained staff are likely much more focused on the rules than last year, and perhaps weren't feeling lenient when they saw the young woman in her dri-fit shirt. If the version of the story by Jason Cherkis is correct, the issue wasn't about clothing, but about another entirely (in his opinion, race). DPR categorically denies any other reason for approaching the youth or asking her to leave when she became aggressive. "We want people to know the rules so they can enjoy the pools," Stokes said.

Stokes said that DPR has a variety of pool rules designed to allow everyone to enjoy the facilities and for DPR to manage them. The rules are not easy to find, as the main result when you Google for "DPR pool rules" is a broken link on the DPR website (I emailed them about it). 

DPR offers a handy rules sheet on their website.

Stokes says that to go into the water, you have to be in a bathing suit, not street clothes, and can't wear "dri-fit" type clothes into the pool. The reason, Stokes says, is that cotton, clothing dyes and other fabrics can leach into the water, causing problems with the filters and the chemical levels. "Cotton can cloud the water and create a chemical imbalance," said Stokes. When you're talking about the impact of a large number of pool goers, one shirt here, a pair of shorts there, add up. If staff notice you're wearing something against the rules, they're supposed to tell you first, and if you don't comply, they can ask you to leave (which is what happened last weekend, says Stokes). 

So a dri-fit shirt won't work if you plan on going into the water. If you only plan to stay on the "deck" (i.e., not go into the pool), then most of these clothing rules don't apply. (No, you can't wear a thong even if you're only sunbathing, Frank.)

There's correct goggles, and there's wrong goggles.

This was new to me, but there's rules about what kind of goggles you can wear into the pool. Turns out, you can't wear masks or use snorkels, just regular goggles that cover the eyes. DPR's rationale is that a full face mask can cover the airway and might trap water, causing a person to inhale water. The full mask would make it difficult for lifeguards to know this was happening, said Stokes. 

Nope, can't use this mask.

Nope, not these goggles either.

Yeah, like these.

Only some toys are ok.

DPR doesn't allows toys in the pool, so your cool pump-action water gun and neato beach ball? Not allowed. "That said, there's some leeway," Stokes said. "No one is going to ask a child to not bring her Barbie doll into the water or other smaller toys." The rule is that the lifeguards can't be distracted, so beach balls and nerf footballs, tennis balls and similar, those are not allowed. 

Kids' pool should be open.

The kids' pool wasn't open last weekend, which gave flashbacks to last summer when the smaller pool was closed for much of the season due to staffing shortages. This year, according to DPR, they're all set with staff -- it's just the kids' pool had a "chemical imbalance" and had to be closed. Stokes says the kids' pool will definitely be open this weekend.

You can't have lunch there, either.

I know, right? Rules say no food or glass bottles at the pool. But don't worry, I won't tell anyone I saw you giving your kid pretzels to eat during the mandatory 15-minute break. If you don't feed these little fish, they flip out.

Expect the rules to be monitored since I made a fuss about last week's incident.

I imagine staff at the pools are going to be sticklers for the rules this weekend when the pool opens up again, since Petworth News has been talking with DPR about last weekend's incident, and inquiring about the rules in general. (Sorry, don't splash me if you see me there.)

On a related note, when I swung by the pool this week it appeared DPR put up a fresh "Swim Attire Requirements" sticker on the outside entrance of the Upshur pool. Consider yourself notified. (Also, please don't wear speedos. That's not in the rules, it's just most people really don't look good in speedos. Right, Frank?)

A requirements sticker tells you if you're wearing the right clothes to use the pool.


Ed Note: 6/15/18 11pm: This article was updated with comments from Jason Cherkis who reported the incident on Twitter. Petworth News has reached out to DPR for a response.

Drew Schneider

Local DC blogger in Petworth, Washington DC.



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