Outrage grows over sixth grader's death due to asthma

Posted: October 13, 2013

The death of a West Philadelphia sixth grader last month from asthma complications continued to spark outrage Friday even as the Philadelphia School District clarified actions staff at Bryant Elementary School took the day the girl became ill.

Much of the anger stems from the lack of a nurse on duty on Sept. 25 who could have recognized Laporcha Massey's distress. Bryant has a nurse only two days a week.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said Friday that after Laporcha reported feeling ill, the school twice called her home to ask someone to pick her up. When no one came by dismissal time, around 2:45 p.m., an aide felt sorry for the 12-year-old and drove her home.

In an article in Thursday's City Paper, Daniel Burch, the girl's father, said he took Laporcha to an emergency room shortly after she arrived from school. And he wondered whether she might still be alive if a nurse had been at school that day. She died at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia that evening.

Burch has not returned several calls from The Inquirer and did not respond Friday when a reporter knocked on his door.

Gallard said nurses were not among the nearly 4,000 district employees laid off this summer because of the district's financial crisis. About 100 nurses, however, were laid off two years ago.

Meanwhile, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote a letter to Gov. Corbett pleading with him to release a $45 million state grant for Philadelphia's schools.

"We'll never know if having a school nurse on site could have spared Laporcha's life, but we do know that school nurses are trained to detect symptoms of asthma attacks," wrote Weingarten, who said she suffers from asthma herself.

With that money, we can come one step closer to making Philadelphia neighborhood public schools safe and healthy," she wrote.

The legislature last summer voted to give the district a $45 million grant, but made it contingent on obtaining savings and management reforms from the teachers' union.

Also on Friday, the Pennsylvania State Chapter of the National Action Network called on the school district and the Pennsylvania Department of Health to investigate what happened at Bryant.

"We need to ensure that procedures are in place to prevent another tragedy," said Matthew Smith Sr., chapter president.

martha.woodall@phillynews.com 215-854-2789

Staff writer Aubrey Whelan contributed to this article.


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