Nearly six months to the day and now some parents feel like justice is finally being served. Served that is, by the essential firing of Columbia Secondary School’s much-lampooned Principal, Jose Maldonado-Rivera.
Dismissed not for the death of one of his students during a mismanaged field trip to the beach, but rather a relatively minor ethics charge – that he allowed one of his staff members to baby-sit his son and live rent-free at his house.
“We all know why he was fired,” said David Suker, a parent at Columbia Secondary and a vocal critic of Maldonado-Rivera.
Rivera was under probation for months, but the department of education ultimately found the need to act on Tuesday – releasing a statement that read in part, “looking at the full history of Dr. Maldonado's conduct, we have determined that his repeated failures in judgment make it inappropriate for him to continue as principal". That full history, marred almost entirely, by the drowning of 12-year old Nicole Suriel at a Long Island Beach with no lifeguard on duty. Maldonado-Rivera was criticized for not mandating adequate supervision – only three chaperones for twenty-four students.
Suker believes the dismissal came 6 months late not because of the recent charges, but rather because the school was wary of admitting culpability for Suriel’s death. The Suriel’s intend to file a 20 million dollar lawsuit against the city for the wrongful death of their daughter. “Nicole’s parents deserve all they can get”, said Suker.
In an email to parents, students, and staff, Maldonado-Rivera made no mention of Suriel’s death and no apology for it – rather seemingly blaming DOE for unfair treatment Maldonado-Rivera wrote "I understood these to not be significant conflicts of interest but rather acts of generosity and mutual kindness that one gives to people one cares about, but doe has determined otherwise."
While Suriel’s family is still shattered by the death of Nicole, they say they harbor no ill will for the former principal. Maldonado-Rivera will be replaced by Dr. Gary Biester who was the Assistant Principal at the High School for Math and Science and Engineering at City College.