Laporshia was a sixth-grader at Bryant Elementary School, whose part-time nurse was not there Sept. 25 when Laporshia started feeling sick.
(If the Bryant name sounds familiar, it's the same West Philadelphia school from which a 5-year-old was kidnapped from her classroom in January by a woman posing as her mother. And in June, a school staffer there was accused of indecently assaulting a 14-year-old student. It's been one helluva 2013 at Bryant.)
The school twice contacted Laporshia's father, Daniel Burch, to retrieve her, says school district spokesman Fernando Gallard. Burch's lawyer, Ron Pollock, disagrees.
"They never told him to 'get' Laporshia," says Pollock. "They had him speak with her on the phone. At no point did they ever say she was too sick to stay in school. He had no idea how sick she was. She had never had an asthma crisis before."
After school, an aide drove Laporshia home, where, says Pollock, Burch treated her with asthma medications, to no avail. She died shortly afterward at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia from complications of asthma.
Mrs. Corbett, there are people who will say that Laporshia's death resulted from an emergency she suffered after she left school, not while she was there. And that would make the absence of Bryant's school nurse a nonissue.
Eileen DiFranco doesn't buy that. She's a veteran nurse in the school district who led protests when school nurse positions were eliminated last year.
"A child with asthma doesn't always 'look' sick to nonmedical people. She might sit very still, with her shoulders hunched, taking small breaths, talking quietly," says DiFranco, who blames no one at Bryant for Laporshia's death. "Nonmedical people might not recognize that a child is about to be in distress."
But any school nurse worth her bear-patterned scrubs certainly might suspect asthma, which is easily detected with a stethoscope. And, knowing how an asthma episode can progress within hours from mild to life-threatening, she might avert disaster by calling 9-1-1 - regardless of a parent's response.
Which brings us, Mrs. Corbett, to parents.
Plain and simple, it is utterly unfair to any child to hold her parents accountable for her medical safety while that child is under school supervision.
"While any child is with us, we act in loco parentis," DiFranco says, referring to the legal responsibility of the school to take on certain functions of a parent. "So whether a parent responds to a phone call to get their child or not, it doesn't matter. We are responsible for that child's well-being."
That's why schools need full-time nurses. Not every parent will retrieve their child when called. And that could be because nonmedical school staffers won't know to describe the kid's condition with the urgency that a nurse would.
"I've had parents who drop everything and come when you tell them their child is sick, and I've had parents who never show up at all," says DiFranco.
"Look, we know our students, we know the families, we know the circumstances that many of them come from," she continues, frustrated as hell. "These kids need full-time nurses while they're under our supervision. Otherwise, we are failing them."
I know what you're thinking, Mrs. Corbett: We'll never know if Laporshia would be alive today if a school nurse had evaluated her the day she died. Well that's what everyone has been saying, especially district insiders who have defended the part-time nurse policy as a workable one.
But God help us if we use that as an excuse to continue the policy in a district that serves poor kids whose needs and risks are well-documented.
So, please, Mrs. Corbett, as a mother yourself, talk with your husband. Pour him a cup of tea, take his hand in yours and share how devastated you'd have been had your own son or daughter met a fate like Laporshia's. Tell your husband to not only release the $45 million he's withholding to fund our schools, but to fatten it enough to hire back the full-time nurses our kids have lost.
Please tell him, "We'll never know if Laporshia would be alive had a nurse been available to her. Please, let's not wonder the same thing about any other child, ever again."
School district nurses will host a silent candlelight vigil tomorrow to honor the short life of Laporshia Massey. It will be held from 6:15-7:15p.m. outside district headquarters, 440 N. Broad St. All are invited.
On Twitter: @RonniePhilly