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School district sued for student’s death

12-year-old Laporshia Massey died of an asthma attack last year. Had she lived, she could have started 7th grade this week.

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As parents across Philadelphia prepared to send their children back into underfunded classrooms this week, Daniel Burch prepared with his lawyer, Michael Pomerantz, to file a lawsuit in a U.S. District Court. Burch’s daughter, 12-year-old Laporshia Massey, died of an asthma attack last year. She would have started 7th grade this week.  

In Massey’s school, Bryant Elementary in West Philadelphia, no nurse was on duty after funds cut the hours down to two days a week. Students were not allowed to take medicine or use inhalers without a nurse present. No school officials called 911, according to the wrongful death suit.

Burch is suing the Philadelphia School District, arguing that the school did not respond properly when Massey had a hard time breathing in class. A district spokesman said that the school called home twice to ask someone to pick Massey up, and an aide drove her home after school. When Massey got home, her father said that he gave her medication and took her to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, but on the way she suffered respiratory failure.

The suit points to the School District of Philadelphia, the school, its principal and Massey’s teacher — all who were aware of Massey’s asthmatic condition — as those who should be held responsible for the wrongful death.

After years of cut funding from the state, the school district has eliminated full-time positions for nurses, counselors, librarians and other staff aides. Just 82 of the district’s 214 schools have full-time nurses, leaving untrained teachers and aides to administer medications and make judgment calls during health crises.

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