The Harlem principal whose school went on a deadly beach field trip faces only a slap on the wrist since officials granted him tenure just days after the girl’s death.
While a teacher was fired and an assistant principal demoted after the June 22 drowning of 12-year-old Nicole Suriel, officials could only seek to put Principal Jose Maldonado-Rivera on probation because his tenure became effective July 1.
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.”
Columbia Secondary School parents association co-president Maria Hererra said there’s support for the principal staying as school leader.
“We’re hoping to come out of something so tragic with something positive to show for it,” she said. “The less additional change, the better right now.”