Father of Drowned High School Student Blasts Class Trip
PROSPECT PARK SOUTH — The father of a city high school student who drowned during a class trip Monday was told by his son's friend that school supervisors let them swim.
The heartbroken father of 16-year-old Jean Fritz Pierre told DNAinfo New York that the teen wasn't a strong swimmer and that the school permission slip he signed only mentioned that students were headed to Bear Mountain State Park — not near water.
"There was nothing about swimming in the permission slip to go to the mountain. My son died in a place he was not supposed to be," the dad, Jonas Pierre, said Tuesday at the family's Prospect Park South apartment.
"If the paper had mentioned ocean, I would not sign. But it said mountain."
Jean Fritz was among 48 freshmen from International High School at Prospect Heights who went on the class trip with four teachers, five chaperones and a parent coordinator.
The teen drowned about 3 p.m. Monday when he and another student separated from their group after a long hike and dipped into a lake where swimming was prohibited, according to officials.
Jonas Pierre, 39, said he heard the same account from school administrators when they informed him Monday night of the tragedy — but he remains skeptical.
He said his son's best friend, who was also in the water, called him Tuesday morning and gave a different version of events. The classmate told him that more than two students were swimming and that supervisors permitted the activity.
Pierre, who wouldn't give the name of the classmate who called, said he was told that a supervisor watched the teens from a boat but left them alone at some point. That's when his son drowned, the dad said.
"I want to know [what happened] because I didn't sign a paper to let him go into the [water]," he said. "I want the school to face responsibility."
When asked about the father's allegations, city Department of Education spokeswoman Erin Hughes said Tuesday that she couldn't comment because the drowning had been referred to the city schools' special commissioner for investigations.
"This is a terrible tragedy and our thoughts are with the family and school community," she said.
Earlier Tuesday, city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott defended the level of supervision on the trip, calling the drowning a tragedy.
"It was the appropriate ratio [of staff to students] and we had a tragedy happen yesterday where we lost one of our students and that's it," Walcott said.
The chancellor also said he expressed his condolences to Jonas Pierre on Monday night. His words didn't provide any solace to the grieving dad.
"He don't feel nothing because he don't know my son," Jonas Pierre said of Walcott. "If the kid was his, he might be crying like a baby."
Jean Fritz immigrated with his dad from Haiti five years ago. The boy's mother, who is divorced from Jonas Pierre, still lives in their homeland. The family was trying to find a way to fly her to New York for the funeral.
Jonas Pierre said he works as a stacker at a Western Beef supermarket in Manhattan to support his family.
"I am a young man. I sacrificed many things to have this son. Zero to 16 doesn't happen like that," the dad said. "I work, I sweat to take care of my son. I don't get nothing for free from this country."
Breaking down in tears as he showed pictures of his smiling son, Jonas Pierre described the teen as a kind homebody who looked after his 5-year-old sister.
The athletic teen loved to play basketball on the courts at the parade grounds across from his home and had many female admirers, the dad said.
On the morning of the field trip, Jonas Pierre said he texted his son, reminding him to be careful. The teen replied, "I will."
"I miss everything about him," the dad said. "I love him so much."
Additional reporting by Sonja Sharp