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Philly schools: It's not always about the cabbage

On Wednesday, May 21, 2014 an elementary student at Andrew Jackson Elementary School suddenly started to feel sick while sitting in class and eventually he passed out. School staff administered CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and called 911. The student was taken to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia where he was pronounced dead.

It's not always someone's fault.
It's not always someone's fault.
Student dies suddenly at Philly elementary school.

Sounds like the school did everything right, but once again people took this opportunity to make this about budget cuts when that’s not necessarily the case. You can have all the money and resources in the world, but the results may still have been the same.

It turns out that the student had a congenital heart defect known as an anomalous coronary artery (ACA). This defect is usually there at the time of birth, but often goes undiagnosed because of the lack of symptoms. Even teens who have ACA may not know they have the defect until they encounter chest pain, heart failure or even death.

After the news of the student’s death became known throughout media outlets, Philadelphians did what they do best: they took a tragedy of a child’s death as well as a parent’s loss and turned it into an opportunity to grandstand and pontificate.

The media reported that the child was homeless and was residing in a homeless shelter which had nothing to do with anything.

Although Governor Tom Corbett has been wrong countless times over the last three years, he stated he was having a problem with certain people taking advantage of “the recent tragedy at Andrew Jackson Elementary School as an opportunity to make a political statement and to further your self-serving agenda.” He’s right and here’s why.

According to the reports staff administered CPR and called 911. A school nurse couldn’t have done anything more than the staff at the school had done. Nurses are not miracle workers or Gods. They couldn’t have detected a congenital heart defect prior to the student collapsing.

The school district places all the responsibility for having medical emergency plans on each individual principal. The nurses at each school are supposed to train staff in case of a medical emergency. With nurses being laid off and the ones that are left being stretched to their professional limits, how fallible are these plans?

The school nurses also create emergency plans for those students who have medical or special needs, but in order to have a plan the parent has to notify the school that the child has some issues that may require special attention. Most parents do this, but only if they know about a health issue.

This student most likely didn’t have a special emergency plan and by all accounts the school’s emergency medical plan worked. People responded in the way they were supposed to and procedure was followed.

There are a lot of things that are going on within the Philadelphia School District where extra staff is needed; that laying off staff members hurts the students. This is not one of those things however because even if there was a full-time nurse at Jackson the result would have been the same.

Also having a full-time nurse assigned was no guarantee that said nurse would have been at the school at the time because even nurses have to take a day off or are expected to attend mandatory training at other sites.

The sad truth is that sometimes children die due to undiagnosed medical problems. Adults often feel helpless because there was nothing they could do to prevent it. People often want to blame someone even though it’s nobody’s fault. It’s the way of the world.

What is wrong is to take this tragedy and make it about something else instead of reaching out to the parent or organizing a fundraiser to help pay for expenses.

PFT President Jerry Jordan should have just focused on reaching out to the parent and not make this about his membership. “We need more nurses, counselors and other services for children in our schools. We want Corbett and his School Reform Commission to take ownership for denying these programs to Philadelphia's schoolchildren, and take responsibility for restoring them.” He wasn’t saying anything that he hasn’t already said. He didn’t need to use this tragedy to reiterate what he has said countless times before.

There are questions that should be answered.

Why was the child taken from the school which is located at 12 and Latona Streets in South Philadelphia to Children’s Hospital (CHOP) which is located at 34 Street and Civic Center Boulevard in Southwest Philadelphia? It’s almost three miles away and takes at least 20 minutes by ambulance to get there. Depending on the traffic it could take even longer. Although this doesn’t seem like a lot of time, when you’re looking at it through a life and death type of situation, it does.

Why wasn’t the student transported to Methodist Hospital (2301 South Broad Street) which is eight blocks away, Pennsylvania Hospital (800 Spruce Street) which is 17 blocks away or even Thomas Jefferson Hospital (111 South 11 Street) which is 22 blocks away?

School district officials may say it’s because CHOP is one of the best hospitals in the nation which may be true, but perhaps the decision to bypass three hospitals who also have stellar reputations may have cost this child his life. Any of these other hospitals could have possibly stabilized this student before transferring him to CHOP.

Almost every agency or business that deals with people such as mental health clinics, law enforcement, social service agencies and day care centers require that all their employees become certified by the Red Cross as a condition of their employment. Why doesn’t the school district have this same policy?

If this was the policy that would mean over 35 adults in Andrew Jackson Elementary School would be able to administer CPR not that it would have made a difference.

The importance of having a policy like this would mean that an emergency medical plan would work better because everyone would be a part of it; that whether or not the staff was adequately trained in CPR wouldn’t matter because everyone would be certified.

The school district needs to have their staff fully trained for any type of emergency the way they’re trained for emergencies such as school shootings or fires.

Finally when a tragedy strikes don’t use it as an opportunity to make your point about something that has nothing to do with that tragedy, but more about you. Reach out to those who are most affected by it and find a way to help that doesn’t consist of standing on your soap box as you continue to have a love affair with the sound of your own voice.

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