Saturday, July 17, 2010

NY Times Article on School Drowning Criticized

To the editor> -
Although I lack direct knowledge of events pertinent to the June 22, tragic drowning of a NYC public school student during a class trip to Long Beach, I write to protest what appears on its surface to be misconstrued, even biased NY Times coverage of the DoE SCI's investigatory report, and subsequent disciplinary action against a first-year teacher ["School Trip’s Planning Is Criticized in Student’s Drowning">] The almost predictable result has been to scapegoat an inexperience teacher for failures in DoE planning, procedures and training.

. "The group took the subway and to the Long Island Rail Road to Long Beach,
. where they then walked a quarter-mile to the boardwalk. Along the way,
. according to the report, they would have certainly passed large signs that
. read “Beach closed 11 p.m.-5 p.m.” and “No lifeguard on duty” and “No
. swimming or bathing.” [NYT - 7/14/10]
In later editions your article was re-captioned "Teacher Fired Over Field-Trip Drowning of Girl, 12", expanded and rewritten, without revision of its dateline or other indication of the changes. One point of particular significance is that in your revised article "Beach closed 11 p.m.-5 p.m." was changed (without comment) to "Beach closed 11 p.m.-5 a.m." The DoE report> actually has it: "BEACH CLOSED 11PM – 5AM" with "CITY OF LONG BEACH OCEAN BEACH PARK" "NO LIFEGUARD ON DUTY" and "NO BATHING OR SWIMMING" below that.
Putting aside the fact that in the DoE-SCI report several students and other observers reported at interview that on June 22 some signs were obscured by sand drifts-- when sent by her superior to this specific beach, reportedly chosen based on the AP's firsthand knowledge and experience as well as checking online, the only reasonable interpretation of the signage is: No lifeguard on duty and No swimming or bathing when the beach is closed: 11PM – 5AM. This interpretation would be reinforced by observing the presence of other bathers and, in fact, a coincident NYC public school (PS 3) class trip of even younger children.
A further salient fact mentioned casually in the DoE-SCI report, and overlooked in NYT articles, is that as a matter of public record (i.e., information readily available online, but reportedly not included in visible beach signage): on June 22, Long Beach was not yet open for the season on weekdays. This fact should have been apparent during competent DoE advance trip planning because, per information posted online-- during the beach season: "Everyone age 13 and older must have paid the admission fee to be permitted on the beach 9AM-6PM." Thus, were the beach open that day, it would be necessary to purchase passes for the class chaperons (but no such plans were made by the school.) By reasonable extension, surely it must strike one when planning a trip: if a beach is not "open", then it probably lacks lifeguards.
By all accounts, none of this critically relevant information was available to the novice teacher-- who was simply saddled by school administrators with the responsibility of escorting two-dozen 6th-graders to a totally unfamiliar beach, with inadequate support (accompanied by an intern, fortunately from the coast of Maine, and a non-swimmer friend.) Clearly, the tragic failure here was not so much that of arguably poor judgement on-site under pressure of the circumstances by a first-year teacher, but one of DoE policy, school administration, and trip planning. And yet the NY Times articles examined none of this critically, content to focus on a DoE-SCI manufactured litany of alleged teacher failings.
On its face, your coverage of the matter was pathetic. Arguably on the positive side, though given MUCH less prominence in your pages, a 7/16/10 article "At School in Harlem, Resentment Over Girl’s Drowning on a Field Trip"> does belatedly offer a somewhat corrective perspective for those of your readers with the requisite attention span. However, today's article does not undo the damage and misrepresentation evident in your earlier front-page pronouncements. What would be a more useful and constructive step toward lessening the likelihood of another such tragedy is a critical examination of DoE trip-planning practices and policy. NOT with an eye to making the process more costly and difficult for chronically underfunded "inner-city" schools (as you have reported some village idiot politicians would now have it)-- but to apply needed intelligence, and prod the DoE to develop online trip-planning support services.
Jeff Bogumil

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Add this, a college student a former NYC High School Graduate (2009) drowned on that very beach two weeks earlier. How can the DOE be allowed to escape the fact that everyone in the New York City area was aware of the dangerous ocean currents in Long Beach just prior to thie tragedy? Yet, not one mention of this fact anywhere.