Long Beach orders swimmers out of water after drowning

Students and pedestrians react on the beach after Students and pedestrians react on the beach after an apparent drowning victim was pulled from the ocean in Long Beach Tuesday afternoon. (June 22, 2010)

Read more about Suriel, the Long Beach drowning and aftermath. Photo Credit: Kathy Kmonicek

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Long Beach police Wednesday began ordering swimmers out of the ocean following Tuesday's drowning of a 12-year-old girl.

The decision to order swimmers out along the 4-mile stretch of beach until lifeguard chairs are staffed came after an auxiliary officer had to help a 14-year-old girl swimming alone from the water Wednesday - a block from where Nicole Suriel, 12, was pulled out unconscious early Tuesday afternoon.

The sixth-grader at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering in Harlem who drowned was on a school field trip to a beach with no lifeguards. Weekday lifeguard duty begins at Long Beach next week.

"With the riptide this dangerous, swimmers will be issued summons for refusing to get out of the water," said City Manager Charles Theofan.

School officials have declined to speak publicly about Tuesday's trip, although the New York City education department says the supervision level - three adults for 24 students - was adequate. Principal José Maldonado-Rivera did not respond to messages left for him Wednesday.

Starting Saturday, more than 130 lifeguards and supervisors patrol daily between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Theofan said swimming at the beach when lifeguards are not on duty is technically always a violation of town code, but it's rarely enforced. It will be enforced from now on if water conditions are dangerous, he said.

Outside Columbia Secondary, a public school for academically gifted students, David Suker, co-president of the parents association, criticized the decision to allow the students in the water. A 19-year-old college student drowned nearby last month.

"The adults should know better. These kids should not be allowed in the water," he said. Students were participating in a celebratory trip as a reward after they had raised money for the school's math and science curriculum, Suker and a parent told Newsday. Most traveled to the beach wearing their swimsuits.

Education department spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz said investigators will look at parental and school approvals, and whether chaperones and the principal knew no lifeguards were on the beach.

City regulations require written parental permission for all field trips; the principal's signoff is also required. Trips with inherent risks, such as swimming, must be described. Middle-school students on a swimming trip would require two staff chaperones plus another adult for 30 students. Tuesday's trip included 24 students, two teachers, and an undergraduate intern, Ravitz said.

"We're waiting until we have the facts" before a decision is made about a possible policy review, she said.

Henry Grishman, president of the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents, said he'd never approve a beach field trip, primarily for safety reasons. Grishman said he spoke Wednesday with other Long Island district administrators about the drowning. "People I've talked to today are all saying, 'I just don't understand,' " he said. "It is just mind-boggling."

Theofan said witnesses told police the children got into the water quickly after their late-morning arrival and were climbing on the stone jetty near Edwards Boulevard before Suriel went under.

"That's an absolute no-no; the rocks are slippery," he said. "What's troubling is that it shows there was virtually no supervision."

A teacher was injured trying to rescue Suriel before the student was eventually located by a Town of Hempstead lifeguard who also works for the FDNY. A handful of guards were at the beach readying for the season and joined the search.

With John Hildebrand

and Maria Alvarez

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