PORTRAIT OF GRIEF: Laporshia Massey’s father, Daniel Burch, and his fiancee, Sherri Mitchell, attend the vigil.
Candles and the lights of TV news cameras lit up the crowd in front of Philadelphia School District headquarters on Oct. 17 at a vigil to honor Laporshia Massey. The sixth-grader died of apparent asthma complications on Sept. 25 after falling sick at Bryant Elementary. No nurse was on duty.
On Oct. 16, Gov. Tom Corbett released $45 million in federal funds to Philly schools. Corbett denied that Laporshia’s death, first reported by City Paper two weeks ago, played a role in that decision. That same day, Acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq initiated an inquiry asking Superintendent William Hite for contact information for staff who had contact with Laporshia on the date of her death or were aware of her condition, and any related documents. School nurse Peg Devine says the link is clear: “Corbett was ashamed, and that’s why he released that money.” Corbett had been criticized for withholding funds to exact concessions from the teachers’ union. Philly schools, reeling from a budget crisis, have 3,000 fewer staffers than in June. Their corps of nurses had been cut over the prior two years; those jobs aren’t expected to be restored.
There are many unanswered questions about Laporshia’s death. Her father’s fiancee, Sherri Mitchell, says the school-funding increase is a small comfort. “I’m just happy that finally we are making some progress in making the schools safer for the children.”
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