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Philadelphia officials eye school budget cuts in girl's asthma death

After a Philadelphia sixth-grader was laid to rest this week after her death from asthma, state and local officials are calling for a review of the budget cuts that eliminated the school nurse they say may have saved her life.

Responding to questions concerning Laporshia Massey’s death, State Rep. Ron Waters told City Paper, “We don’t have the people in place in the schools right now that can provide necessary services to our students.

“At the end of the day, there’s only but so much that any building can provide if it has to deal with a skeleton operation.”

Philadelphia Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell added: “Without school nurses, she didn’t feel well, where could she go? You got to call emergency when you think it’s at that point.”

“Without school nurses, she didn’t feel well, where could she go?"

- Philadelphia Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell

The calls for review center on the events of Sept. 25 at the West Philadelphia’s Bryant Elementary School.

City Paper reports Laporshia Massey, 12, complained during the school day of symptoms related to her asthma.

However, the school only has a nurse on staff two days week, after crippling cuts to the district budget. On the day in question, City Paper says, no nurse was on duty at Bryant Elementary School.

The publication cites a school district source as saying, “They told her school was almost out, and she’d get out of school and go straight home. She went to the teacher (who told her) there’s no nurse, and just to be calm.” 

After school let out, a school staff member drove Laporshia home, her father, Daniel Burch, and other sources told the paper. 

But by then, it was likely too late. Burch told City Paper he immediately gave his daughter medication when she arrived home and then rushed her to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

However, the little girl collapsed in the car, forcing Burch to reportedly hail a passing ambulance in the middle of traffic. The hospital declined to comment, citing privacy constraints, but Burch says his daughter died at the hospital.

Hit by budget cuts, The School District of Philadelphia reportedly has nearly 3,000 fewer staff members than at the close of the prior school year, in June. City Paper reports that 179 nurses are working in public, private and parochial schools this school year, down from 289 in 2011. 

City Paper also says Bryant Elementary did not have a full-time nurse last year, either. 

Burch told the publication he believes that had a school nurse been on duty, they would have seen the imminent danger. “Why,” he reportedly asked, “didn’t [the school] take her to the hospital…If she had problems throughout the day, why … didn’t [the school] call me sooner?”

The school district source, who spoke to City Paper on the condition of anonymity, said: “If they had called rescue, she would still be here today.”

Click for the story from City Paper.