Teacher Fired Following Deadly Day at Beach

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Assigning blame. Disturbing details in a new report on the death of 12-year-old Nicole Suriel. Tom Llamas reports.

    Education officials Wednesday said they plan to fire the teacher who supervised the field trip to Long Beach that went terribly wrong and ended with the death of 12-year-old Nicole Suriel last month.

    They also plan to demote the assistant principal and principal at the Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering in Harlem, where Suriel was a student.

    The disciplinary action comes after an Department of Education investigation revealed a perfect storm of errors in judgment and planning.
     
    It was a nightmare on Long Beach on June 22. There were no lifeguards on duty, and no permission slips from parents. And there were signs saying no swimming or even bathing.

    But the teacher in charge gave children -- even those who couldn't swim -- permission to go in the rocky waters, and, tragically, Nicole Suriel drowned after being pulled out by a rip current.

    And today's report revealed this horror story could have been even worse. The investigation shows that at least four other students on this field trip were in distress that morning -- requiring rescue after being swept away by a strong current.
     
    The report also showed the trip was hastily planned by the assistant principal the day before. And nobody seemed to know there would be no lifeguards on duty even after the children were in trouble when they were screaming for help.

    The children were accompanied by three adults: Erin Bailey, a first-year teacher; Bailey's boyfriend, who is a former city schoolteacher; and a 19-year-old college intern who was not properly vetted.

    The report says the school's assistant principal decided at the last minute not to attend because he was trying to spend $30,000 in "use-it-or-lose-it" money before the end of the school year.

    The report faulted principal Jose Maldonado-Rivera and assistant principal Andrew Stillman for poor planning. Instead of distributing consent forms for parents to sign, as required, Stillman sent parents an e-mail that said, "We're headed to the beach tomorrow."

    The report also found "a failure to provide a sufficient number of adults to supervise the children at the beach and poor judgment by the teacher in charge who either failed to realize that there were no lifeguards on duty or failed to recognize the additional danger presented by their absence."

    A Department of Education spokeswoman said that, in response to the report, Bailey would be fired and Stillman would be demoted from assistant principal to teacher.

    The department will seek to place Maldonado-Rivera on probation for two years. But because he has tenure, he can request a disciplinary hearing.

    A spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers said he had no comment on Bailey's firing.

    Ernest Logan, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, which represents Maldonado-Rivera and Stillman, said he supports the disciplinary actions.

    DOE officials say they will be making changes to the regulations regarding field trips. Two possible changes will involve the number of chaperons required on trips and clarification of the policy regarding visits involving water where there are no lifeguards.