“Budget crisis” is too tame a phrase to describe what’s happening in Philadelphia right now. The cuts hit bone. Nurses, counselors, teachers, lunchroom aides, assistant principals and librarians were eliminated. On Sept. 25, a sixth-grader named Laporshia Massey passed away after she suffered an asthma attack at school. Massey’s school didn’t have a nurse, and her family argued one could have saved their daughter’s life. In fact, during the budget crisis, school nurses warned that cuts to nursing staff would hurt student academic performance and endanger student safety. Three weeks after Massey’s death, amidst public outcry, Gov. Corbett released $45 million in state money to rehire some teachers, counselors and other support staff. Corbett had been withholding the money on the demand that the teachers union hand over further concessions in their contract standoff. When he released the funds, Corbett’s administration made sure to mention that he wasn’t doing it because of Massey.
The budget crisis in Philadelphia, in cutting as deep as it has, highlights the fact that schools are so much more than buildings that house desks and kids, and that education is much more than classroom learning and testing. Schools are lifelines in communities, often functioning as the hub in a neighborhood. Nurses, counselors, assistant principals, music teachers and librarians play crucial roles in sustaining those communities and keeping children afloat. Take counselors, for instance, who do so much more than settle class schedules and lay out college brochures. At the start of November, 80 counselors laid off in the midst of the crisis were returned to Philadelphia schools so that every high school will have at least one counselor, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. But the damage was done for many students. Not having counselors around for nearly two months at the beginning of the school year left them without guides through the testing and college application maze. Some schools even declined to offer PSATs, which prep students for the SATs, because they didn’t have counselors to coordinate the tests.
Students are acutely aware that Corbett is investing in incarceration rather than education.
Your office made sure to let Philadelphia parents know that your decision to release the 45 million dollars was based on quote “improvements” to the district – which closed 23 schools this summer. You made sure Philly’s parents knew that your decision had nothing to do with the death of 12-year-old Laporshia Massey, who died in September after an asthma attack.
Her family claims that she may still be alive if there had been a nurse at the school to recognize her symptoms and get her medical help. We may never know what would have happened if there was a nurse there that day. But the case brought our attention – the nation’s attention – to the sad state of Philly schools.
The money will not be used to rehire any of the more than 100 school nurses the district has let go in the past two years. As your administration said, Philly schools meet the minimum allowable by state law – one nurse per 1,500 students.
And that’s enough, apparently.
This is in a city where 22% of children have had asthma in their short lives – and more than half have ended up in the emergency room because of it. It’s the highest rate in the state. And asthma rates are worse among black children and poor children and inner city children across the country.
Governor, open your eyes to the fact that kids in Philly public schools – disproportionately black and poor – are needier than most. That means they need. More. More from you. And not just the bare minimum required. If we want these kids to have a chance at becoming happy, healthy, employed, taxpaying residents of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, shouldn’t we acknowledge that they need more to get there?
At a bare minimum, we need to know what happened at Bryant Elementary School. Without knowing the facts, the School District of Philadelphia exonerated its staff:
Because we want to ensure the safety of all children, it is paramount that we find out what happened to cause this tragic death. We are doing what is necessary to investigate what happened, and we are cooperating with all involved city and state agencies, as we always do, upon the death of one of our students. From our review to date, we are certain that our staff at Bryant are not the cause of the student’s death, and we will continue to address all concerns arising out of this tragedy.
Bryant is in Sen. Anthony Williams’ district. In a letter to Superintendent William Hite Jr., he called for a formal inquiry and public accounting:
Given that this is the second disturbing and high-profile circumstance to strike this school community within the past year, as the representative of this area – and as a neighbor – I am now asking you to formalize the inquiry and report out the results publicly.
My expectation is that such an investigation, coordinated with the police and district attorney, would reveal what issues and circumstances resulted in the child’s death, detailing if there are any elements of negligence, or, even criminal culpability. These are questions swirling around this community, throughout Philadelphia, and beyond. At a bare minimum, the community should be made abreast of the findings, for it certainly deserves answers, within the bounds of the law. While I recognize this is a somewhat unusual request, based on how things are normally conducted, the level of scrutiny in this matter warrants it.
Three weeks ago, 12-year-old Laporshia Massey suffered an asthma attack while at school. That should be the end of the story. Sadly, it isn’t. There was no school nurse on duty that day. Laporshia was sent home. Within hours, the sixth grader from West Philly was dead.
While the family and the School District of Philadelphia dispute the circumstances leading up to her death, the fact is we’ll never know whether a school nurse would have recognized the severity of her condition.
It’s also a fact that more than 30 percent of children between the ages of 5 to 12 in West Philly have been diagnosed with asthma. So it’s reasonable to expect another child will suffer an asthma attack or otherwise get sick while at school. If there’s no nurse on duty, will school officials rely on a child’s own diagnosis of her condition to determine whether to call 911?
Later today, the Philadelphia School District Nurses will hold a silent candlelight vigil for Laporshia.
Justice for Laporshia Massey dictates that we remain vigilant lest her tragic death is swept under the rug.
It’s Week Four of Philadelphia’s school funding crisis. The fight for equitable funding of traditional public schools is rooted in the Pennsylvania state constitution which provides for a “thorough and efficient system of public education.”
The fight for full funding is being waged online (hashtag #phillyeducation) and offline.
Students at Roxborough High School “got the eye of a tiger.” They created video to express their concern about the state’s failure to provide a “thorough and efficient system of public education.” Since 2001, Philadelphia’s public schools have been run by the School Reform Commission, which is controlled by the governor.
At last weekend’s conference at the Church of the Advocate, Bishop Dwayne D. Royster, executive director of P.O.W.E.R., said he’s raring to go. P.O.W.E.R., Philadelphia’s largest faith-based organization, is an interfaith movement that uses prophetic voices to “fight for the least, the last and the lost.”
He said “interposition and nullification are dripping from the lips of political leaders in Philadelphia and Harrisburg. It’s time to hold them accountable:
We must be the source of their nervousness; make them tremble when they see us coming.
Bishop Royster added:
We have to do something that’s going to be transformational.
One of the highlights will be the unveiling of a limited-edition 1963 March on Washington stamp. The Forever stamp will be the third in a trilogy of civil rights stamps.
For the first time, the U.S. Postal Service will unveil a stamp simultaneously online via Facebook and onsite at the Newseum. You can help digitally unveil the stamp artwork by adding your Facebook or Twitter profile to the March on Washington Stamp Mosaic. Each individual photo will unveil a small piece of the artwork, becoming a pixel in the virtual stamp mosaic. As more people contribute to the mosaic, more pieces of the stamp will be revealed. At the same time you will be taking a stand for equality.
At the first-day-of-issue ceremony, actress Gabrielle Union will submit her Facebook profile which will trigger the unveiling of the full stamp artwork.
The new Forever stamps are part of the Postal Service’s celebration of the civil rights movement:
The U.S. Postal Service is celebrating the best of
America with several limited-edition stamps in 2013. This includes the Civil Rights set, which praises the honorable qualities of those involved in the Civil Rights Movement.
This set recognizes the courage of Rosa Parks; freedom embodied in the Emancipation Proclamation; and equality marked by the March on Washington.
Jazz history was made in Philadelphia. It’s the city where such legendary musicians as John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Philly Joe Jones, Shirley Scott, Billie Holiday, Jimmy McGriff, Bill Doggett, Stan Getz, Benny Golson, Lee Morgan, Grover Washington Jr., Trudy Pitts and Jimmy Smith made major contributions to jazz.
Philadelphia is the most important focus of John Coltrane’s development as a virtuoso musician. Philadelphia’s rich black jazz milieu in the 1940s nurtured the novice teen reed player just up from the South. The house on North 33rd Street was special to Coltrane. In this house, he wrote “Giant Steps,” a title that foreshadowed his future musical stature. In this space, in 1957, Coltrane experienced a life-altering epiphany when he freed himself from heroin addiction cold turkey.
All That Philly Jazz, a digital history project, is mapping Philadelphia’s jazz heritage, including historic landmarks and events, legacy clubs and other points of interest. Sadly, much of Philly’s jazz legacy has disappeared. As a result, the history largely resides in the memories of those who were there.
So we have launched a mobile platform to crowdsource collection of stories, photos and videos. All That Philly Jazz’s free app is available on Google Play and iTunes (search term “icihere”).
Philadelphia’s jazz legacy is like that family secret that everyone knows about you and your family, yet you have no idea about it. Our city’s musical status in the world is rich and valued. Our story is well known in places like London, Paris, Osaka, Berlin and Rio de Janeiro while at home we have yet to explore, appreciate and celebrate the greatness that emerged from these very streets. It’s time for us to look into the Philadelphia family album of jazz and understand just how wealthy we truly are and can continue to be.
Jazz enthusiasts anywhere in the world can go to http://ph.ly/MyPhillyJazz and share their memories of Philly’s jazz scene back in the day. If you were there, that would be awesome. If someone shared a story, photo, etc., with you, please share it with us. After all, if we don’t tell our story, who will?
With our app, residents and visitors can, say, stand on the corner of Broad and Lombard Streets, and reimagine Billie Holiday leaving the Showboat, which was in the basement of the Douglass Hotel.
If Billie walked south on Broad, she would have arrived at Pep’s in less than five minutes. Along the way, she would have passed the Dunbar (Lincoln) Theatre.
Although we’ve barely scratched the surface, the first iteration of the map is telling the story. Broad and South Streets, and Columbia Avenue (now Cecil B. Moore Avenue) were chock-a-block with jazz spots.
But All That Philly Jazz is not just about the past. It’s about building new audiences for jazz musicians by exposing Millennials and others to a unique American art form.