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District clarifies claim about first-aid training

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The recent death of Andrew Jackson Elementary student Sebastian Gerena, 7, from a congenital heart condition has placed a spotlight on a cash-poor Philadelphia School District's capacity to respond to medical emergencies.

No school nurse was on duty at the time, and attention has turned to the District's policies and procedures for emergencies and whether they were carried out.

State guidelines for medical emergencies call for protocols to be in place for when situations that can be "reasonably anticipated" arise. That includes "identifying specially trained and designated individuals who, in addition to the nurse, will render first aid."

In responding to the incident at Jackson, District spokesperson Fernando Gallard at first said that the school nurse trains all staff in first-aid procedures as outlined in the MEH-50 flip chart posted in the nurse's office.

Comments on theNotebook story from educators and nurses said that it is not the case that all staff is trained in first aid. Generally, teachers said they received an explanation of the MEH-50 chart, but nothing as rigorous as what could be called training.

Asked to clarify the type and level of training school staff received, Gallard provided the following response.

"The nurse does not train people to perform first aid," said Gallard, who added that proper first-aid training would entail "a course provided by certified trainers, the result of which is that people become certified to perform first aid and, usually, CPR. The school nurses are not, as part of their job descriptions, qualified to do that, nor do they have the capacity to do it."

Nurses, Gallard maintained, train school staff in the use of the MEH-50 chart. "They call attention to it as the District's policy with respect to first aid."

Public outrage has centered on the lack of full-time nurses in schools resulting from successive years of budget cuts. Presently, 179 nurses cover more than 180,000 students at 214 District schools, along with some private and parochial schools.

The District's ratio of nurses to students falls between the maximum ratio mandated by state law (one nurse for every 1,500 students) and the number recommended by the National Association of School Nurses (one nurse for every 750 students).

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David Limm

@limmdavid
Online editor, the Notebook.