Provided by Daniel Burch
Laporshia Massey, 12, a student at Bryant Elementary School, became ill at school and died later that day.
School nurses will gather for a candlelight vigil this Thursday evening to mourn 12-year-old Laporshia Massey, a sixth-grader who died after falling sick at a Philadelphia public school where no nurse was on duty. Laporshia's father and others ask if budget cuts that have sharply reduced staff might have played a role.
"We nurses are organizing this gathering because we want to express our sadness and support to the family of Laporshia Massey," according to a message from Eileen Duffey, a school nurse and outspoken opponent of staffing cuts. "Every child deserves better than this."
The vigil will begin at 6:15 p.m. in front of School District of Philadelphia headquarters at 440 North Broad Street.
Laporshia's father, Daniel Burch, told City Paper that he did not understand the gravity of his daughter's predicament when he first received a phone call from Bryant Elementary School on September 25th. He did not pick her up from school, and a staff member later drove Laporshia home. Burch says that his daughter was in great distress from asthma, and that he rushed her to the hospital soon thereafter. She collapsed in the car and died later that day.
There are unanswered questions: It is unknown precisely what the school knew about Laporshia's asthma condition, what symptoms she exhibited at school, and what time she arrived at the hospital that day. It is also unclear whether her life could have been saved if a nurse were on duty that day.
But the suggestion that Laporshia died so soon after falling sick at school has prompted widespread doubts as to whether school staff responded appropriately — or, given the sharp staffing cutbacks, whether they had the capacity to do so.
Last Friday, the National Action Network called on the School District of Philadelphia and state Department of Health to investigate the student's death.
"These are communities that [have] been disproportionately impacted by school closings and school nurse layoffs," according to an NAN statement. "We need to ensure that procedures are in place to prevent another tragedy."
Though the School District has said it always reviews such incidents, neither they nor state authorities have announced a formal investigation of Laporshia's death since City Paper first reported the story last Thursday.
Her father has retained a lawyer, and the family is deciding whether to file a lawsuit.
"We're literally in the process of gathering our information," attorney Ron Pollack tells City Paper. "There is a high likelihood."
Bryant only has a nurse on staff two days a week. Across Philadelphia, there are now 179 nurses working in public, private and parochial schools, down from 289 in 2011. Bryant did not have a full-time nurse last year either — and it is unclear when, if ever, the school did.
Gov. Tom Corbett and the Republican-controlled state legislature have imposed massive cuts on public education statewide, propelling the long-underfunded School District of Philadelphia into a deep crisis.
The District has nearly 3,000 fewer staff members than it did in June.
Last week, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten released a letter calling Gov. Corbett to release $45 million in federal funds he has said he will only release if unionized workers deliver major concessions. The money, Weingarten wrote, is "owed to these children [and] should be released right now, with no strings attached. With that money, we can come one step closer to making Philadelphia neighborhood public schools safe and healthy."
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