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District: ‘It is paramount that we find out what happened to cause this tragic death’

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Responding to calls for a formal inquiry into the Sept. 25 asthma-related death of Bryant Elementary student Laporshia Massey, who apparently became ill at school, the School District released the following brief statement on Friday, saying it is investigating — and cooperating with other investigations:

The School District is concerned about the death of any student, no matter where and when that happens. Especially when a child is dismissed from school and dies several hours later, we take it very seriously out of concerns for the child and his or her family and for our students and staff. Because we want to ensure the safety of all children, it is paramount that we find out what happened to cause this tragic death. We are doing what is necessary to investigate what happened, and we are cooperating with all involved city and state agencies, as we always do, upon the death of one of our students. From our review to date, we are certain that our staff at Bryant are not the cause of the student’s death, and we will continue to address all concerns arising out of this tragedy.

On Wednesday, the same day Gov. Corbett released a $45 million grant for Philadelphia schools, his acting education secretary, Carolyn Dumaresq, told the Associated Press that her department would investigate the circumstances of Laporshia’s death and review the School District’s emergency plans and staffing.

The District has said it does not plan to use the added funds to bring back school nurses, whose ranks have been slashed over the past three school years in Philadelphia. Bryant’s part-time nurse was not at the school the day of Laporshia’s death.

On Thursday, State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams sent a letter to Superintendent William Hite, calling for a formal investigation. He wrote:

… I had been told that an investigation was underway, and initially opted to withhold further action until that concluded. However, the Bryant families, as well as the community as a whole, rightfully remain disturbed and unfortunately have been left to simply speculate, in the dark.

Given that this is the second disturbing and high profile circumstance to strike this school community within the past year, as the representative of this area — and as a neighbor — I am now asking you to formalize the inquiry and report out the results publicly.

My expectation is that such an investigation, coordinated with the police and district attorney, would reveal what issues and circumstances resulted in the child’s death, detailing if there are any elements of negligence, or, even criminal culpability. These are questions swirling around this community, throughout Philadelphia, and beyond. …

Families need assurances that Bryant has indeed a safe and academically qualified climate for our children; and if it does not, we need immediate responses as to the actions that will take place to make it so. I look forward to your prompt response.

The other incident the senator referred to took place in January, when a woman took a 5-year-old out of a classroom at Bryant. The girl was later found, and a woman was charged in the case. The trial will be in August 2014.

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