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Student's death shocks community, reignites outrage about funding

By David Limm on May 22, 2014 02:20 PM

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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Comments (5)

Submitted by aonymous (not verified) on May 22, 2014 4:16 pm
Is there anything, anywhere on the SDP funding wishlist, in which the School District talks of returning nurse service to 2011 levels? Can anyone at the Notebook answer this? If the SDP were magically gifted with say, 400 million dollars, would any of the money be slated for school nurses? Just wondering. Can anyone from the Notebook or from the press ask Dr. Hite this question?
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on May 22, 2014 5:32 pm
The SRC has to cut nurses because many schools run by their overlords in the charter industry have no nurses. So they do not want Charter Parents getting any ideas about such superfluous luxuries. The SRC wants Philadelphia parents to get used to the new service free future of Charter School. Fully certified teachers, librarians and nurses are things that eat into the profits of charter schools. Got to keep those margins up.
Submitted by anon (not verified) on May 22, 2014 7:45 pm
hear, hear! they're waiting for the right moment to introduce "nurse for america".
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on May 22, 2014 7:27 pm
Perfect, they can have a two month summer camp to learn things like CPR, injections, eye testing and diagnosing extremely communicable diseases. Talented amateurs are the best for the charter companies fiscal health if not the student's health.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 23, 2014 7:05 am
As a school nurse in the SDP I am also outraged by the lack of nursing support. This is the second child to die in schools without a nurse in approximately 1 year. The SDP and the SRC has repeated said through their actions and decisions that nurses are non-essential personnel. How dare this idiot principal make the completely unsupported claim that if a nurse was there, the outcome would have been the same. This self-serving comment is completely bias and based upon no scientific proof. Yes, an outside volunteer who is said to know CPR is just the same as a well educated certified school nurse....really? I am sure if there is any response from the school district it will be to try and hire agency nurses with dubious educational backgrounds because the most important thing is cutting cost and not healthy students.

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