Questions Raised after Child Drowns on School Trip to the Beach

Students were taken to beach with no lifeguards on duty

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A 12-year-old Harlem student drowned in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean off of Long Beach, during a school trip Tuesday. Now, many parents want to know why the group of sixth graders were taken there when no lifeguards were on duty. (Published Tuesday, Jun 22, 2010)

    As the Suriel family grieves the death of their 12-year-old daughter Nicole, tears of sadness turn into anger.

    Sixta Suriel, Nicole's grandmother told nbcnewyork.com, "How else can I feel?  This pain has no comparison.  It is all so senseless.  She goes off on a school trip and we get this news.  It’s a profound pain."  

    The Suriels want to know why Nicole and her sixth grade classmates were allowed to go into the ocean at Long Beach when no lifeguards were on duty.

    Nicole's father Juan who works overnights said he was woken up by the most horrible phone call a father can receive.

    "Two hours ago I said goodbye to her," said Juan Suriel. "I didn't know how to react, I just screamed and cried."

    Nicole and 23 of her sixth grade classmates from Columbia Secondary School in Morningside Heights, were on a school trip. They were enjoying the cold ocean waves of Long Beach but very quickly things took a fatal turn.

    "All the kids were hysterical, screaming on the floor," said one beachgoer Cassie Perez. "Crying that they’re friend was gone"

    Officials say one teacher tried to save Nicole but was unable to reach her. Nicole's classmates watched as rescuers searched for more than hour. But by the time they found her it was too late.  Before the drowning, Brittany Polini says she saw Nicole, apparently unattended, far offshore

    "I saw her head moving and I said to my friend, like why is there a kid out there by herself?" Said Pollini.

    "It could have been a rip current.  There are holes there she could have got caught in and the current would keep her in that hole," said Chief Scott Kemins of the Long Beach Fire Department. "Bottom line:  she should have not been in the water"

    Lifeguards were not on duty at the time and will not start staffing the beaches until this weekend. It is not clear what the New York City Department of Education's policy is concerning school trips to unlifeguarded pools or beaches.
       
    When the rest of the students were driven back to their school, they were comforted by parents, teachers and grief counselors.
    One parent put the blame on the school's principal.

    "He is responsible for this child’s death. Nobody else," said parent David Suker. "And I'm not going to let my child go to school until I get reassurances from the city this will not happen again."

    A spokesman for the department of education says the kids were supervised by two teachers and 1 undergrad intern.  And that this is consistent with Department of Education policy for trips outside New York City.  

    The city's Department of Investigation is looking into this incident and Mayor Michael Bloomberg hesitated to appoint blame.

    "I think at this point what we have to focus on is maybe grieving and having a prayer for the child and see if we can help the parents through what is obviously the most difficult situation any parent could possibly experience. And we’ll focus on that right now."

    Memorials are being organized by the school and student body, with a tentative service at school scheduled for this Friday.