Sick Days: The Philadelphia School Nurse Shortage is a multimedia documentary project exploring the impact of budget cuts on seventeen Philadelphia public schools, focusing on school nurses. 

Philadelphia, like many American cities, has been subjected to the twin forces of budget austerity and neoliberal education reform.  For the poorest big city in America, the damage has been extreme. Over the past two years 27 public schools have closed, and thousands of teachers, support staff and counselors have been laid off. There’s no money for new books, supplies or extra-curricular activities. Larger class sizes and less staff supervision have resulted in an unstable educational environment that is not only less conducive to learning but also less safe for students and faculty.

Particularly alarming were the recent mass layoffs of school nurses. Over the past two years, more than 100 nurses have either retired without being replaced or been given pink slips. The nurses, who were already over-extended caring for an increasingly disadvantaged student population in a chronically underfunded public school system plagued by violence, saw their workload doubled. 

Nurses now spend their weeks traveling between multiple schools, leaving tens of thousands of students without a nurse in the building on any given day. This impacts all students in the district, but disproportionately so the 82% who are considered economically disadvantaged, as well as those with disabilities and special medical needs. With the recent death of sixth-grader Laporshia Massey, who suffered an asthma attack on a day when there was no nurse at her school, it’s become apparent that the school budget crisis is quickly snowballing into a public health crisis.

Focusing on this one component of the school budget crisis has allowed for more attention to detail, facilitating not only a deeper understanding of the immediate effects of the school nurse shortage, but also how it is connected to the larger (and often harder to detect) issue of structural violence.

These photographs were collected over the course of four months at the start of the 2013-2014 school year and are part of a larger documentary project that will culminate in the publication of a book.

For more information and the opportunity to support Sick Days: The Philadelphia School Nurse Shortage, please click here.  Thank you!

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