By Jill Colvin and Nicole Bode
MANHATTAN – New city schools chief Dennis Walcott signed an emergency order Wednesday adding a host of new public school field trip safety policies as the drowning death of a sixth-grade Harlem student at a beach last summer comes up on its year anniversary.
The Education Department policy changes mandate additional chaperones for large groups of students, force schools to fundraise their own travel fees for "celebratory" trips, and require schools to get superintendent approval for their trips prior to the trip date.
For trips that involve swimming, principals would have to ensure that a lifeguard is on duty at all times, and students would have to wear life vests for any kayaking, tubing or rowing activities, according to the new regulations.
The rule changes are expected to be accepted pending a vote by the Panel for Educational Policy at its meeting Thursday night.
The changes come close to a year after Columbia Secondary student Nicole Suriel, 12, drowned June 22, 2010 in the waters off of Long Beach when the chaperones at her school field trip allowed her and her classmates to swim in the ocean even though no lifeguards were present. Her parents hadn’t signed any permission forms prior to the poorly-planned, last-minute trip, they said at the time.
"Tragically, last year we lost one of our students in an accident on a school field trip to the beach. While we can never change history, we can take action to prevent future tragedies and better protect our students on field trips," Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott said in a statement Wednesday.
"That is why today I signed an emergency order expanding supervision requirements for field trips and strengthening guidelines around swimming. I strongly believe field trips are a valuable part of our children’s education, exposing them to different experiences and environments than the classroom. We want our students to get the most out of these experiences with safety in mind."
Suriel was among 24 students who were chaperoned by only three adults, and there were signs at the beach warning patrons not to swim.
The principal was removed from his position at the school after allegations that he had improperly hired a woman with whom he was having a romantic relationship.
The Columbia Secondary school was also placed on the chopping block for teacher hirings in a list of the Education Department's list of "last in-first out" planned firings.