Philadelphia Cuts School Nurses, 6th Grader Dies of Asthma Attack With No Nurse On Duty Pt. 1

Philly schools suffer 40 percent decline of school nurses in just two years due to budget cuts


Philadelphia sixth-grader Laporshia Massey died shortly after suffering an asthma attack at school on September 25.

No nurse was on duty.

In 2011, 289 school nurses worked in Philadelphia. Currently, 179 such nurses work in the district—a decline of nearly 40 percent.

Eileen DiFranco, a certified school nurse in the Philadelphia school district, says that massive cuts in state funding have led to an understaffed public school system.

“And, unfortunately, in spite of all this, our governor continues to hold the school district hostage,” says DiFranco. “There's $45 million which he has refused to provide to the school district unless the unions give back 10 percent of our salaries. So I feel that our governor is playing chicken, a mean-spirited game of chicken with vulnerable children.”

“We can't say for sure whether a nurse being there that day, whether they could have foreseen what would happen or saved Laporshia's life,” says Daniel Denvir, a reporter at the Philadelphia City Paper.  “But that's a big question that the parents have and that a lot of people in Philadelphia are asking right now."

Denvir also says that Philadelphia Governor Corbett refuses to close tax loopholes and end corporate tax breaks in order to provide additional tax revenue for public education.

In June, the GOP-controlled state legislature passed a corporate tax cut estimated to cost the state between $600-$800 million a year—more than double the deficit for the Philadelphia schools during the next fiscal year.

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Story Transcript

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

Philadelphia sixth-grader Laporshia Massey suffered an asthma attack at school on September 25 but couldn’t receive any help, since no nurse was on duty. That’s because the district eliminated 3,000 positions, including nurses. Unfortunately, 12-year-old Laporshia died shortly after returning home.

Joining us now to discuss this tragedy are journalists Daniel Denvir and Philadelphia school nurse Eileen DiFranco.

Thank you both for joining us.

DANIEL DENVIR, REPORTER, PHILADELPHIA CITY PAPER: Thank you.

EILEEN DIFRANCO, CERTIFIED SCHOOL NURSE, PHILADELPHIA SCHOOL DISTRICT: Thank you.

DESVARIEUX: Daniel, so I know that you had direct contact with Laporshia’s family. Can you just describe for us what happened that day?

DENVIR: According to Laporshia’s father and the father’s partner, she began having asthma issues at school that afternoon. They received two phone calls, one each from the school. They did not realize how serious the situation was. Later that afternoon, a school staff member ended up driving Laporshia home, ostensibly because she was too sick to walk home. And within–according to the father, within 15 minutes, he drove his daughter to the hospital. She collapsed in the car on the way. She had taken–tried medication, getting on her nebulizer at home. It didn’t work. He rushed her to the hospital. She collapsed in the car. He stopped the car, flagged down–blocking an ambulance in the street, flagging them down. They took over, took her to the hospital, where she later died.

It’s unclear–we can’t say for sure whether a nurse being there that day, whether they could have foreseen what would happen or saved Laporshia’s life, but that’s a big question that the parents have and that a lot of people in Philadelphia are asking right now.

DESVARIEUX: As you mentioned, Daniel, there was no nurse on duty, but this isn’t a unique situation. In 2011, 289 school nurses worked in Philadelphia. Now only 179 such nurses work in the district. That’s a decline of nearly 40 percent. Eileen, how did we get here? And who do you see as being responsible?

DIFRANCO: Unfortunately, one of the first things that Governor Corbett did when he became the governor was that he decreased education funding by $1 billion. One-third of that funding was designated for Philadelphia. Unlike 47 other states, Pennsylvania has no funding formula. So instead of having this formula, it’s basically orchestrated by politicians in backrooms who have no understanding of the noxious effects of poverty, and they have no understanding of education itself.

Our current crop of politicians also tends to listen to reformy so-called innovators like Michelle Rhee. This unfortunately has led to severe cutbacks in our city, as you mentioned, in our school district, as you mentioned. Our school nurse service has been cut back. Not only that, we have few to no counselors, we have no vice principals, and other school personnel have been cut back. So what this means is that we have fewer eyes, fewer ears, fewer hands, and fewer minds that are able to deal with situations like Laporshia’s.

And, unfortunately, in spite of all this, our governor continues to hold the school district hostage. There’s $45 million which he has refused to provide to the school district unless the unions give back 10 percent of our salaries. So I feel that our governor is playing chicken, a mean-spirited game of chicken with vulnerable children.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. And Governor Corbett has said that education cuts are necessary to close the budget gap. But in June, the GOP-controlled state legislature passed a corporate tax cut that’s estimated to cost the state $600-$800 million a year. That’s more than double Philadelphia schools’ deficit for the next fiscal year. Daniel, can you explain the role of powerful interests in changing the education system in Philadelphia?

DENVIR: Yeah. Well, first, on the revenue side you do have Governor Corbett saying that there’s just not enough money and cuts have to be made. Yet he has allowed corporate tax breaks to be put in place. And perhaps even more importantly, he has refused to place a significant tax on natural gas drillers who are exploiting massive energy reserves in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale. You also have tons of tax loopholes allowing corporations to shelter money in Delaware that there have been many proposals to close, and he refuses to do so. So there is revenue out there.

On the city level, you have major corporations like Comcast, you have major nonprofits like the University of Pennsylvania who are getting major property tax breaks, or in the case of these wealthy nonprofits, not getting taxed at all.

So on both the state and the city level you have a lot of powerful interests that could be contributing more.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Well, thank you both for joining us.

DENVIR: Thank you very much.

DIFRANCO: You’re welcome.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.