Father of Drowned Student Says School Had No Permission for Fatal Trip

Another Unanswered Question

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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.

    Through the fog of grief at the sudden loss of his pre-teen daughter, Juan Suriel says he's clear about one thing: the school had no consent to take Nicole Suriel to the beach.

    Twelve-year-old Nicole drowned Tuesday in what witnesses said was a fierce riptide current off of Long Beach on Long Island. The questions for officials at Harlem's Columbia Secondary School run to a longer list though.

    At the top, why was a trip planned to a closed beach where signs warned that no lifeguards were working?

    "How you take kids, little kids, 12-years-old, 11-years-old to a beach where no lifeguards are on duty? That's just outrageous," said Orelbi Suriel, the victim's cousin.

    "No kids should be going to any beaches without lifeguards or a beach that is closed," responded Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

    But the chancellor declined to order all trips canceled while the investigation continues. That was the demand of Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer, who also proposed a review of procedures for approving trips that have inherent risks.

    A reading of existing policy however, reveals that trips have to be approved in advance by principals and consent forms that include descriptions of safety hazards (like swimming) must be signed by parents and kept on file at the school.

    Chancellor Klein refused Wednesday to say whether that policy was followed for Nicole's trip.

    The victim and classmates had won the beach adventure by making the most money at a walk-a-thon to improve awareness of academic programs. Candles and flowers were visible on the sidewalk outside the school on West 123rd Street Wednesday.

    Giving a message to reporters intended to warn other parents, Juan Suriel remembered Nicole in Spanish as "a good child. I beg you, he said "don't go through what we are going through, don't let your child go to a beach trip like this one." 

    "I can't express the depth of sadness that I feel for what happened," said Chancellor Klein.