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Nurses hold vigil in memory of girl who died of asthma

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

by Naveed Ahsan

School nurses, parents, and education advocates concerned about budget cuts held a silent candlelight vigil outside of District headquarters before Thursday’s School Reform Commission meeting in memory of 12-year-old Laporshia Massey, who died from an asthma attack on Sept. 25.

Laporshia, a 6th-grade student from Bryant Elementary School, fell ill on that day, reportedly complaining of breathing problems. There was no nurse on duty at the time. A staff member drove her home at the end of the day. Soon after, Laporshia’s father took her to the hospital, where she died that evening. Her death has sparked a debate among education advocates about the impact that reduced staffing can have on medical emergencies that may occur at schools.

Eileen Duffey, a school nurse at the Academy at Palumbo, organized the vigil. Though Duffey said that she did not know Laporshia or her family personally, she felt compelled to act.

“I decided that I would set aside this space and time to devote some grieving for all of us,” Duffey said.

Ongoing budget cuts within the District have caused layoffs of critical staff. More than 100 school nurse positions were cut in the 2011-12 school year. Additional cuts this year brought staffing levels down to the state minimum of one nurse per 1,500 students. Reduced medical staff has meant that many non-medical personnel are being forced to handle the duties of school nurses. This was the case with Laporshia, who reportedly told a teacher who was not aware of her medical condition that she was not feeling well.

Gov. Corbett announced that he will restore the $45 million that the state had appropriated to the District but had been withholding pending reforms, but in a press conference on Wednesday, Superintendent William Hite said he had no plans to use part of the money to increase the level of nursing staff.

After the vigil, Duffey voiced her concerns regarding the ongoing education crisis.

“There has to be a lot more funding, a system that is functional and listens to the people’s needs.”

Naveeh Ahsan is an intern at the Notebook.