For the second time this school year, a student attending a Philadelphia public school suffered and died from health complications in a school that had no full time nurse present. In October 2013, Laporshia Massey suffered an asthma attack at Bryant Elementary School in Philadelphia, was sent home to her father and was rushed to the hospital. Massey would later pass away because of these health issues. Then last week Sebastian Genera passed away from cardiac arrest suffered at Jackson Elementary School, and the cause of Genera’s death came from a rare genetic disorder. Both of these students suffered illnesses in Philadelphia public schools that had witnessed support staff cuts due to Governor Corbett’s education cuts, and in the case of Sebastian Genera it is most likely uncertain that a nurse present at the school that day would have been able to save the students life.
Before the findings of Genera’s death was made public, the American Federation of Teachers sent a letter to Governor Corbett. The letter, posted below, clearly acknowledges that they do not know if the life of Genera could have been saved, but the letter points out that there was a full time nurse present at Jackson Elementary School before Governor Corbett took office and cut public education spending by $1 billion in his first budget. The letter reads:
The last time we wrote, the Philadelphia community was grieving the loss of Laporshia Massey, a 12-year-old who died from asthma complications that started at school. Today, tragically, we grieve once more. Again, a child has been stolen from us much too soon—this time a 7-year-old from Jackson Elementary School. Again, there was no school nurse on site.
Five years ago at Jackson Elementary, there was a full-time school nurse. Today, the dedicated nurse who has served the Jackson community for 15 years only visits on Thursdays and every other Friday.
Since you took office in 2011, you slashed school funding by $1 billion and turned down Medicaid funding that could have helped many of Philadelphia’s children. The number of school nurses in Philadelphia has fallen from 289 to 179. Now, instead of focusing on the health needs of students at one school, nurses in Philadelphia’s public schools cover five or six schools, sometimes visiting each school only once every other week.
We don’t know if a school nurse could have saved this young boy. But we do know every child deserves a full-time nurse in his or her school. We do know all parents deserve to know that their child will be safe and his or her most basic needs will be tended to at school. We do know that all Philadelphia children deserve better.
Mr. Governor, we cannot tolerate one more life lost, one more dream snatched from our children. You have the power to fix what you have broken. Restore full and fair funding to all Pennsylvania schools. And do it now.
On Sunday, Diane Ravitch reports that a public school teacher, Steven Singer, sent Governor Tom Corbett a letter about this situation, and Governor Corbett responded by blaming the Teachers Union for not accepting more pay cuts. In his response to Singer, Governor Corbett responds:
“Putting the safety and educational needs of our students first must continue to be our top priority. There is an appropriate time and place to call for education policy discussions. Right now, our thoughts should be with the child’s family, friends, school and community who have all been through an extremely traumatic situation.
I am deeply troubled that the union leadership of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers – and by extension the American Federation of Teachers – would use the recent tragedy at Jackson Elementary as an opportunity to make a political statement. For more than a year, we all have asked the union leadership – who are disconnected from the great teachers in Philadelphia who are in the classroom every day – to come to the table and engage in meaningful negotiations to assist in the financial recovery of the Philadelphia School District.
The Commonwealth, the School District, the School Reform Commission and City Council are all working to contribute to the success of Philadelphia’s schools and students. I will continue to ask the union leadership to put the children of Philadelphia first and engage in a meaningful dialogue and a shared vision for the future of the children of Philadelphia.
In short, Governor Tom Corbett is saying “don’t expect the state of Pennsylvania to give the Philadelphia School District more funding like we did the first time a school student died because no nurse was present…”