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After child's death, Jackson parents demand more funding

More than 50 parents and community supporters of Andrew Jackson Elementary in South Philly gathered on the steps of the school on Thursday morning to speak about the death of a Jackson student, and to demand more funding for the Philadelphia School District.

The first grader, 7, died on Wednesday afternoon at Children's Hospital after falling ill at the school. There was no nurse at Jackson at the time the child became ill; the school has a nurse every Thursday and every other Friday.

A retired nurse happened to be volunteering at the school when the child fell ill, and a staffer trained in CPR administered it before emergency personnel arrived. It's not clear whether the child had any pre-existing medical conditions, or whether having a nurse on duty would have saved his life.

Melissa Wilde, president of Friends of Jackson and parent of a kindergartener and first grader at the school, made the following statement:

"We are proud of our school.  Despite an ever-shrinking budget, Andrew Jackson School's dedicated leadership, teachers and staff, work miracles big and small, day in and day out, for our children.  Because of them our school is growing stronger every day and in recent years there has been much to celebrate.  And for that, we thank them.

But as you all know, a tragedy occurred here yesterday.  We are devastated by the loss of a first-grader.  We want to offer our deepest condolences to the family and friends of this child.  We, like many of you, I am sure, cannot imagine the pain of such a loss and our hearts go out to them.

We must speak out today – in the midst of the pain and grieving caused by this tragedy - because we are once again forced to ask questions that we should never have to ask.  Unfortunately, this child is the third Jackson student lost in the last two years.  And we are not alone.  Other schools in the city have suffered the tragic loss of students.  Yesterday, there just happened to be a CPR certified staff member and a retired nurse volunteering in the school who worked desperately with others and first responders to try to save this child's life.

But, who will be there next time?  What if this school had a full-time nurse?  What if this school had a full-time counselor?  Could they save the next child's life?  We should not have to ask these questions any longer.  The children in the school behind us don't know enough to ask these questions yet.  They don't understand that their school is underfunded - that they are denied the basic resources that other children and communities take for granted.

We will never know whether having a full-time nurse or full-time counselor could have saved any of the three children that Jackson has lost in the last two years.  What we do know is that having nurses and counselors in schools will save lives.  And we will not stand by any longer while the lives of the children of this city are threatened by a lack of basic resources.

Yesterday, as Jackson staff, school volunteers and emergency responders worked desperately to save a first-grader's life on the second floor of the building behind me, city council debated whether our schools needed $120 millions in funds already appropriated by the state.  We hope that debate is now closed.

We are asking all Philadelphians and Pennsylvanians to support us in making two demands:

1st: We demand that every city council member release a statement TODAY that they will vote for the $120 million dollars that is already on the table to be provided to our schools immediately.  Our schools desperately need this money.

2nd: Unfortunately, even with that $120 million, we will still have the same inadequate staffing next year.  We demand that every city and state elected official pledge to do everything in their power to ensure that when Philadelphia's schools open this Fall, that every one of those schools has a full-time nurse, a full-time counselor, and teacher staffing levels that ensure the safety of our children and give them the opportunity to learn.

It is time to stop playing politics with the education and lives of the children of this city and provide permanent funding that matches the devotion of our teachers and staff and the hopes and dreams of the 200,000 children in Philadelphia's public schools."