Essential role of school nurses spotlighted in tragedy

Laporshia Massey, a sixth-grade girl from Philadelphia, died from asthmatic complications on a September night after complaining of breathlessness at school earlier that day. But because of budget cuts, no school nurse was there to help.

“We’ll never know if a school nurse could have saved Laporshia’s life,” said Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers president. “But we do know that school nurses are trained to detect the invisible symptoms of an asthma attack,” said Weingarten, an asthmatic herself. “I’ve been rushed to the hospital during an asthma attack and have experienced that fear of not being able to breathe.

Weingarten quickly  called on Gov. Tom Corbett to release the $45 million in federal funding he was holding on to so school nurses, guidance counselors and other essential school staff could be restored to the city’s schools. Social media and e-mail blasts also encouraged people to sign petitions asking Corbett to release the funds.

The funding was released Wednesday.

“It can bring back nurses, counselors, safety officers, secretaries and, of course, some teachers that Philadelphia schools need to be safe and healthy and to provide educational opportunities for all children,” Weingarten said. She said the push must continue for Philadelphia public schools to be fully and fairly funded.

“Let me be clear: There should never have been a delay in the release of these funds. But thanks to the united voices of thousands of parents, students, teachers and community activitists … Gov. Corbett has finally done the right thing,” Weingarten said.

Massey’s father has said repeatedly that a school nurse would have been able to detect his daughter’s problem and sought help.

“School nurses are uniquely positioned to promote prevention and wellness, provide access to care for our children to stay healthy, safe and ready to learn, and are frequently called upon to make decisions that are the difference between life and death,” said Kathleen Donahue, NYSUT’s vice president who oversees the union’s programs and services for health care professionals.

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