Waving signs and chanting “save our nurses,” about 50 people gathered outside Philadelphia School District headquarters today to protest the latest round of budget cuts.
They called it "Occupy 440."  The protest was not organized by Occupy Philadelphia, but some Occupy Philadelphia protestors joined the cause on North Broad Street.
Effective Dec. 31, 141 employees - including 47 nurses, 28 secretaries, 18 non-teaching assistants, and others — will lose their jobs.
The district, which earlier announced a budget gap of $629 million, recently said it must cut $39 million more.  The most recent reductions are not the last, officials warned.
Sharon McGeehan, a school nurse at South Philadelphia High, celebrated her birthday by protesting her layoff.
“It’s going to take a tragic event — to have a child die or get seriously hurt — to see that this was a mistake,” said McGeehan, who wore her stethoscope around her neck.
The protest was organized by Eileen DiFranco, school nurse at Roxborough High.  DiFranco didn’t lose her job, but said she can’t stomach the way the cuts are being made.
DiFranco and others are angry that the district’s Promise Academies, or turnaround schools, have fewer cuts to contend with and receive more money per student.  
They also think the district is giving too much money to charter schools.  But charter funding is set by the state, not the district, and lags behind a year, so Philadelphia’s cuts in state aid won’t hit charters until next year.
Nurse Michele Perloff, who lost her husband to cancer five months ago and her job last week, worries about what will happen to her family, which will lose health insurance on Saturday.
But Perloff, who worked at J. Hampton Moore Elementary in the Northeast, also worries about the students who will go without nursing services.
“It’s not just about medically fragile kids,” said Perloff, who had worked for the district for four years.  “It’s about connecting kids to resources in our community.”
The district has said that medically fragile students will still have adequate services.
School nurse Eileen Duffy said that’s not good enough. In urban schools, “every child is fragile,” she said.
Students need consistent medical professionals who build relationships, said Duffy, who did not lose her job.
“Whether they are in kindergarten or high school, this fragility is manifested in somatic complaints — be they headaches, stomachaches, panic attacks. We listen, we calm them, we send them back better than when they arrived, ready to learn,” said Duffy. 
The group, which gathered for about an hour, said it would re-assemble every Wednesday to protest until its questions were answered.