Friday, July 16, 2010

Harlem Principal Gets Wrist Slap In Drowning Incident Because Tenure Granted Just Days Earlier

This was truly a horrific case of bad judgment. On June 22, a 12-year-old, Nicole Suriel, drowned while on a class trip from the Columbia Secondary School in Harlem to a Long Island beach. The trip was a reward for fundraising activities.

It was later determined that the teacher and principal did not secure permission slips from parents, the group lacked sufficient adult supervision for the number of students involved, those adults present lacked swimming capabilities, and there were no lifeguards on the beach at the time.

While the teacher was fired and an assistant principal was demoted, the principal, Jose Maldonado-Rivera, could only receive probation because his tenure became effective July 1 (it was approved in April):
The decision to grant him the job protections had been made in April, months before a series of tragic missteps led just three chaperones to take 24 students from Columbia Secondary School to Long Beach, which had no lifeguards on duty.

But no one revisited the tenure decision after the disastrous outing, even though chancellor's regulations state principals are ultimately responsible for field trips.

"In the heartbreaking days following Nicole's death our primary focus was not on the tenure status of Columbia Secondary School officials," said Education Department spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz.

Officials had to ask Maldonado-Rivera to agree to be put on two years' probation, which he did yesterday.

In a scathing report released Wednesday, Maldonado-Rivera acknowledged that he authorized a beach field trip as a reward for fund-raising.

He said he was unaware of deadly riptides at Long Beach and didn't realize there would be no lifeguards there that day. His attorney declined to comment.

The investigation also found students went on at least one other water-related trip without proper permission forms.

Assistant Principal Andrew Stillman - who backed out of the trip at the last minute - was demoted from making $98,000 a year to being a teacher making $63,000. He will join the pool of teachers who still get paid but don't have permanent assignments, officials said yesterday.

Erin Bailey, the teacher chaperoning the trip along with an intern and her boyfriend, was fired.

Nicole's father, Juan Suriel, said the family wasn't any happier because of the punishments. "I don't wish any harm on anybody. It doesn't make me happy that Nicole's teacher was fired, or that bad things happened to other people," said Suriel. "All I want is for this to not happen to anyone else's family."
Everyone involved ignored Department requirements that an adult chaparone be present for each 10 students.

Teachers are showing resentment for the whole way the Department handled the investigation and handed out punishments - the teachers think that the teacher was scapegoated for administrative decisions.
Dana Ligocki, a former English teacher, recalled a trip in 2008 to the Hudson River with 2 chaperons for 32 students to collect water samples. Education Department regulations require that there be an adult chaperon for every 10 students on field trips.

Ms. Ligocki left the school in February in part because she did not want to be at the school during the month of field trips in June.

“I feared having to go through that again,” she said. “This is not a one-time event; this is a pattern. I always thought something could happen, though I never imagined it being this awful.”

Ms. Ligocki said she complained of other safety hazards at the school, like allowing hundreds of students to walk down five flights of stairs to the gym unsupervised. She said several physical education classes were taught by college interns rather than certified teachers in Mr. Maldonado-Rivera’s effort to expand sports offerings.
Administrative oversight appeared lacking, even though the school had produced significant student achievements.

No comments: