Hite: Every School Will Get a Nurse, Counselor If Wolf’s Budget Passes

That's a very big if.

Philadelphia School District Building

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Superintendent William Hite made a surprise announcement Thursday that every school in Philadelphia will have a full-time nurse and counselor next year — if, that is, the state’s GOP-controlled General Assembly passes Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget.

That’s a very big if. Pennsylvania still lacks a complete budget for this year.

Fernando Gallard, a spokesman for the school district, said it will need to hire 61 nurses and 42.5 school counselors (.5 because some are part-time) in order to make up for the current holes. He said this will cost a total of $12.9 million — $5 million for counselors and $7.9 million for nurses.

Hundreds of public school parents have petitioned in recent years for additional nurses, counselors and other resources, which have been cut back dramatically after reductions in state and federal aid. Many have complained that they have had to send their children to schools where the nurse only comes in twice a week, if it all. In 2015, three schools reported that they had no nurse coverage whatsoever, not even part-time.

Some argue the lack of full-time nurses has led to tragic circumstances. On Sept. 25, 2013, 12-year-old Philly student Laporshia Massey had an asthma attack at school when a nurse was out. According to a lawsuit filed by her estate, school staff contacted her parents, but told Massey to “be calm.” After arriving home after school, the suit said, she suffered from respiratory failure and died on her way to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Massey’s father said that had a nurse been present, she would have been able to get help earlier and might have survived. (The district has said that the school called her home twice to have her picked up, but no one answered. According to the district, an aide eventually drove her home.)

Hite made his announcement Thursday at Martin L. King High School at a principals’ meeting. But the first time many residents got wind of the news was when Councilwoman Helen Gym revealed it at a Council session.

Of course, it wasn’t a done deal like that tweet — from Council’s official account — suggests.

Still, Gym was glad to hear the news. She said she has been working with the district on the issue.

“We’re splitting nurses between three to five schools,” she said. “This is a district that needs to recognize where its priorities are. A school nurse is no longer an option. It’s an essential part of a school.”

Gym also tipped her hat to the Philly residents who have pursued the issue and refused to let up. “Make no mistake … this decision did not come out of thin air,” she said in a statement Thursday. “This decision is the result of years of organizing and advocacy on the part of Philadelphia’s communities who stood up and demanded more for our children.”

Follow @MariamDembele on Twitter.