HARLEM (WPIX) - A day of mourning and questions at a Harlem school after sixth-grader Nicole Suriel drowned during a school trip to a beach that had no lifeguards.
Columbia Secondary School, a public selective college preparatory institution, has grievance counselors and other extra professionals on hand today to help students and teachers mourn the 11-year-old girl's loss. Some parents we talked with said the extra help is badly needed following yesterday's tragedy.
"She is very sad," parent David Suker told PIX-11 News amid tears, regarding the way his daughter, who had a gym class with Nicole, is trying to cope with the loss. "This is the first time she's had to deal with the death of a child."
Nicole Suriel was one of two dozen students on an end-of-the-school-year field trip to Long Beach on Long Island. The beach is typically staffed with lifeguards only during the weekends before the last weekend in June. Starting next weekend, lifeguards are scheduled to be on duty every day until Labor Day.
But after sixth grader Nicole Suriel went missing at the beach around 11 a.m. yesterday, dozens of beach patrol lifeguards, police divers, Coast Guard members and a police helicopter went looking for her. The girl's teacher also dove into the surf looking for Nicole, but the riptide was so strong, the teacher had to be rescued herself. When searchers did find the twelve year old girl, she was lifeless, having been in the water for nearly 90 minutes. EMTs rushed her to a nearby hospital, but she was pronounced dead upon arrival.
And now, questions arise about Columbia Secondary School principal Jose Maldonado-Rivera's decision to allow this field trip to happen at all. "Nicole deserved better than this," parent David Suker said. "When you have two dozen students on a trip to a beach with no lifeguards, someone hasn't done their homework. This is the fault of the principal," he told PIX-11 News.
But as they dropped off their children at school this morning, some other parents responded differently. "This is a great school... and this is a tragedy," parent Marsha McIntosh said. "But it is at times like these that parents have to pull together for the school, for the principal and for the family that has lost this precious child."
PIX-11 News saw no evidence that Principal Jose Maldonado-Rivera came to school on Wednesday, the day after Nicole Suriel's death. Nobody representing the school or the Department of Education made any official comment, although Schools Chancellor Joel Klein asked for a moment of silence in Nicole Suriel's memory at an unrelated community meeting Tuesday evening. Also, Klein has directed his department's special commissioner for investigation to look into the case.