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Student’s death shocks community, reignites outrage about funding

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

A 1st grader at Andrew Jackson Elementary died Wednesday, after collapsing inside the school, where no nurse was on duty.

Late in the afternoon, the 7-year-old boy was pronounced dead at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where doctors have not been able to determine a cause of death, according to various news reports.

A trained staffer tried to administer CPR to the student before an ambulance arrived minutes after calling 9-1-1, according to the Daily News. A retired nurse volunteering at the school also attended to the student.

The student’s death ignited outrage in the community, many wondering whether the boy’s death could have been prevented were there a nurse on duty. Two years of budget cuts have drastically reduced the number of full-time nurses in the District.

"What if this school had a full-time nurse? What if this school had a full-time counselor? Could they save the next child’s life?" asked Melissa Wilde, a school parent and president of Friends of Jackson, according to the Inquirer.

School District spokesman Fernando Gallard was quoted calling the death "an extremely tragic situation for the staff and the school overall," saying that the staff is confident they "did everything they could to support the child during the medical distress that he had."

The school’s principal Lisa Ciarianca-Kaplan told the Daily News: "My staff was on point. They did everything right. Whether there was a nurse there or not, it wouldn’t have changed the outcome."

The City Paper asked the Jackson school nurse Ann Smigiel, who works at the school on Thursdays and every other Friday, about the incident. "If I were there, would it have made a difference? I don’t know."

Although it is unknown whether having a full-time nurse on hand could have prevented the student’s death, many education advocates say that the brutal cuts have created a scenario that makes poorly resourced, understaffed schools more vulnerable to calamity.

Teachers’ union leaders sent a statement to Gov. Corbett citing the death and demanding that he restore funding to Philadelphia schools.

"Mr. Governor, we cannot tolerate one more life lost, one more dream snatched from our children," said the letter signed by Philadephia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan, Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers president Ted Kirsch and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. "You have the power to fix what you have broken. Restore full and fair funding to all Pennsylvania schools. And do it now."

Thursday morning, community members gathered at the school to mourn the loss of the student and support a community devasted by his death.

Update: Superintendent William Hite issued a statement expressing condolences, thanking those who provided medical assistance, and commenting on the funding issue.

This incident, however, illustrates the serious needs and challenges that our students, teachers, staff and principals face every day. During times of tragedy, our community should not have to question whether an extra staff member or program would have made a difference. We should all feel confident that our schools have everything they need.

This school year has been tremendously challenging on several fronts. Our pleas for sustainable funding are based on obvious needs. We urge our funders to provide the School District with the $440 million needed to adequately serve our schools. We cannot afford one more year of inadequately funded schools.

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