Officials: Teacher in Long Beach drowning is fired

Teacher Erin Bailey is shown seated on the Teacher Erin Bailey is shown seated on the back of a truck at Long Beach as recuers search for drowning victim, Nicole Suriel. A probe concluded that during the trip, two dozen students were allowed to go to the beach with inadequate permission slips. (June 22, 2010) Photo Credit: Brad Trettien

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The New York City schoolteacher chaperoning a field trip to Long Beach in which a sixth-grader drowned was fired Wednesday, and officials are seeking to put the school principal on probation, the city said.

Erin Bailey's firing came the same day as a report was released on the investigation into the girl's drowning that blamed Bailey for letting the students wade into the ocean with no lifeguards on the beach.

The probe concluded that during the June 22 trip, two dozen students of the school, Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in Harlem, were allowed to go to the beach with too few adults and inadequate permission slips.

The 19-page report slammed "a lack of adequate planning" by school leadership and "poor judgment by the teacher in charge who either failed to realize no lifeguards were on duty, or failed to recognize the additional danger presented by their absence."

In addition to the ouster of Bailey, who was not tenured, the principal, José Maldonado-Rivera, could be put on two-year probation, and an assistant principal, Andrew Stillman, is being demoted back to being a tenured teacher, city Education Department spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz said. The department was in discussions with a lawyer for Maldonado-Rivera, who has tenure, Ravitz said.

Both men had told investigators they assumed that lifeguards would be at the beach.

Shortly after the two dozen students and three adults arrived at the beach that morning, four students were pulled from the water in distress, and the fifth, sixth-grader Nicole Suriel, 12, was dead, according to the report, issued by the school system's special investigation commissioner, Richard J. Condon.

Bailey, 26, a onetime certified lifeguard, tried to help in the rescue but was herself pulled from the water and sustained lacerations and physical exhaustion. She couldn't be reached Wednesday to comment.

During the end-of-year trip, even students who couldn't swim were allowed to go into the water, investigators found.

"If you can't swim, don't go in the water past your waist," Bailey told students, one student relayed to investigators. "Don't go past the rock."

Signs at the beach, at the entrance to the boardwalk and posted on the backs of empty lifeguard chairs, warned: "NO LIFEGUARD ON DUTY" and "NO BATHING OR SWIMMING."

Suriel's family declined to comment on the report, but their attorney, Oliver S. Storch of Manhattan, said the report "opened wounds" and that they want to digest the report. "But at least now the family knows what happened and why it happened. . . . It clearly states that . . . something was wrong. The system broke down."

The report went to Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice "for whatever action she deems appropriate," Condon said. The office is holding its own probe. A spokeswoman said the office had received the report, "the relevant findings of which will be duly considered."

With Maria Alvarez

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