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Death of Philly first grader at school leads to calls for nurses, funding

A Philadelphia first grader collapsed in his classroom at Andrew Jackson Elementary School in South Philadelphia Wednesday and died two hours later, according to the Philadelphia Daily News.

The 7-year-old boy was the second student to die in the Philadelphia’s public schools this school year. A sixth grader died in October 2013 from an asthma attack that started at school. In both instances, the schools’ part-time nurses were not on campus.

Jackson Elementary principal Lisa Ciarianca-Kaplan told reporters that it was not clear whether having a nurse on duty would have changed the outcome of Wednesday’s tragic event. There was a retired nurse volunteering in a school classroom at the time who helped tend the boy. A medically trained staff in the classroom performed CPR to the student, according to district spokesman Fernando Gallard.

That didn’t stop parents from gathering on the school’s steps Thursday morning to demand more funding for the city’s public schools. The City Council happened to be holding a hearing Wednesday on a request for more funding from The School District of Philadelphia when the first grader collapsed and died.

Philadelphia is one of the poorest cities in the nation. Since 2012, The School District of Philadelphia has closed two dozen schools and laid off close to 4,000 employees to close a $304 million budget gap under Superintendent William Hite R. Jr.

Philadelphia schools aren’t alone in their staffing cuts, especially as nurses are concerned. A study released this week found that while less than half of public schools have a full-time nurse on staff today, every dollar spent on full-time school nurses reaped $2.20 in saving in terms of parent work productivity, teacher productivity and the cost of medical services. The study did not take into account reductions in doctors’ office or emergency room visits.

PBS NewsHour education coverage is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.