More states are se­ri­ous about sunscreen

Bill to al­low stu­dents us­ing sunscreen stalled in Ge­or­gia

Walker County Messenger - - Front Page - By Martha T. Moore

State Rep. Craig Hall of Utah has four red­headed school-age chil­dren, lives in the state with the high­est rate of melanoma in the coun­try, and buys sunscreen “in the Costco size.” He is an un­abashed pro­po­nent of sun pro­tec­tion.

But when Hall, a Repub­li­can, in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion this year to al­low kids to bring sunscreen to school — which starts Aug. 21 in his district — he said his fel­low state law­mak­ers were a lit­tle less en­thu­si­as­tic. “My col­leagues’ first re­ac­tion to this bill was mostly, ‘Se­ri­ously? We need a bill for this?’ “

Like ibupro­fen or hay fever med­i­ca­tion, sunscreen is con­sid­ered an over­the-counter drug by the U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion, and there­fore by al­most all schools. That means kids can’t bring it to school with­out a doc­tor’s note, and even then must see the school nurse in or­der to use it.

The re­sult: Teach­ers lead­ing a sunny field trip are free to cover them­selves in a thick pro­tec­tive layer of sunscreen. But in most states, chil­dren can’t fol­low suit. In Indianapolis, for in­stance, kids go back to school July 31 — the height of sum­mer — but they must have a doc­tor’s note to bring sunscreen to school, and visit the school nurse to put it on.

That is be­gin­ning to change. In the past four months, Alabama, Ari­zona, Florida, Louisiana, Utah and Wash­ing­ton have en­acted laws declar­ing stu­dents may use sunscreen in school

and at af­ter-school ac­tiv­i­ties, no doc­tor’s note re­quired. Those states join Cal­i­for­nia, New York, Ore­gon and Texas, which al­ready have lifted the ban on sunscreen in school. The laws in Ari­zona, New York and Wash­ing­ton also stip­u­late that kids may bring and use sunscreen at sum­mer camps.

The leg­is­la­tion is de­signed to al­low school dis­tricts to im­ple­ment “sun safety” poli­cies that en­cour­age kids to use sunscreen and wear hats and long sleeves in the sun — though in a nod to school dress codes, the leg­is­la­tion al­lows schools to ban clothes and hats deemed in­ap­pro­pri­ate.

Sunscreen leg­is­la­tion is also in the works in Mas­sachusetts, Pennsylvania and Rhode Is­land. A sunscreen bill that cleared the Se­nate in Mis­sis­sippi died in a House com­mit­tee, and a bill in­tro­duced in Ge­or­gia has stalled.

“Par­ents, I think, are the best de­ci­sion­mak­ers on” their chil­dren’s sunscreen use, said Repub­li­can state Sen. Terry Bur­ton, a co-spon­sor of the Mis­sis­sippi bill. It would have re­quired the state Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment to write a sun safety pol­icy for dis­tricts to fol­low. “The school should not in­ter­fere with that de­ci­sion that a par­ent makes to pro­tect their child.”

Leg­is­la­tors say they are mo­ti­vated by an­gry par­ents whose chil­dren suf­fered se­ri­ous sun­burns at school events where sunscreen was banned. “If you just Google ‘kid sun­burned at school,’ “Hall said, “some of the sto­ries are hor­ri­fy­ing.”

In Rhode Is­land, Demo­cratic state Rep. David Ben­nett said the state’s 2016 law re­quir­ing daily school re­cess makes it more im­por­tant that kids be al­lowed to put on sunscreen by them­selves. “The kids are im­pa­tient. They’ve got 20 min­utes. They’re not go­ing to stand in line for 20 min­utes’’ while a teacher ap­plies sunscreen, said Ben­nett, whose bill passed the lower house and is now in the Se­nate. “By the time she gets done with the last kid, the 20 min­utes is go­ing to be over.”

But Ben­nett ran into op­po­si­tion from the Rhode Is­land as­so­ci­a­tion of school nurses, which op­poses the bill. Un­like other state sunscreen laws, Rhode Is­land’s leg­is­la­tion has no lan­guage to ad­dress li­a­bil­ity for school em­ploy­ees who may ap­ply sunscreen and for school dis­tricts. The school nurses group

also be­lieves sunscreen should be kept out of class­rooms be­cause of po­ten­tial al­ler­gies among stu­dents.

Diane Kowal, pres­i­dent of the Rhode Is­land Cer­ti­fied School Nurse Teach­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, said two chil­dren in her Coven­try school district carry EpiPens be­cause of sunscreen al­ler­gies. Par­ents could be send­ing their kids to school with sunscreen and a doc­tor’s note, which would al­low her to dis­pense the sunscreen, she said — but they don’t.

While she re­ceives doc­tor’s notes from par­ents to ad­min­is­ter ibupro­fen and even cough drops, she has not re­ceived any to per­mit sunscreen use, even at an­nual school field days when she alerts par­ents to be sure kids are pro­tected from the sun. “They all show up with the hats and water bot­tles,’’ but no sunscreen, Kowal said.

“We’re not against sunscreen,’’ Kowal said. “There just needs to be lan­guage to pro­tect ev­ery­one, from the per­son putting it on to the kids shar­ing it.”

Bruce Brod, po­lit­i­cal ad­vo­cacy chair for the Pennsylvania Academy of Der­ma­tol­ogy and Der­ma­to­logic Surgery, said a se­ri­ous al­lergy risk is un­likely. “A kid might be al­ler­gic to hair gel. The ques­tion is where do you draw the rea­son­able line?”

Push by der­ma­tol­o­gists

Be­yond me­dia cov­er­age of kids with lob­ster-red sun­burns, the leg­is­la­tion has been driven by an ad­vo­cacy cam­paign from a coali­tion of med­i­cal groups in­clud­ing the Amer­i­can Academy of Der­ma­tol­ogy As­so­ci­a­tion and the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety for Der­ma­to­logic Surgery As­so­ci­a­tion, whose mem­bers de­cided in March to push for sunscreen leg­is­la­tion. The der­ma­to­logic surgery group wrote model leg­is­la­tion and ear­marked

$30,000 in grants for state der­ma­tol­ogy or­ga­ni­za­tions to lobby for the bill. The der­ma­tol­ogy as­so­ci­a­tion also pro­vided ad­vo­cacy grants to state groups.

The quick re­sults — four state laws in three months — are be­cause “it’s an is­sue that doesn’t seem to be po­lit­i­cally di­vi­sive at all,” said Terry Cronin, a Mel­bourne, Florida, der­ma­tol­o­gist and head of the ad­vo­cacy work­ing group for the der­ma­to­logic surgery so­ci­ety. “Ev­ery­body sees that kids need to be pro­tected from skin cancer and they should be pro­tected with sunscreen.”

The med­i­cal groups say they are hope­ful that Illi­nois and Ohio will take up sunscreen leg­is­la­tion next.

Some sunscreen laws spec­ify that school­child­ren may put on their own sunscreen and that school per­son­nel may vol­un­teer to help them. Utah’s law, for in­stance, in­cludes a pro­vi­sion that if a child can’t ap­ply her own sunscreen, a teacher or school em­ployee may do so, but only with the writ­ten con­sent of the par­ents. The school and its per­son­nel are not li­able for ei­ther a re­ac­tion to the sunscreen or for not reap­ply­ing it.

“The real dif­fi­culty is a lot of the teach­ers and nurses are un­com­fort­able hav­ing to ap­ply this on chil­dren be­cause they don’t want to be seen as han­dling the child,” Cronin said. Sunscreen bills which ex­empt sunscreen from be­ing ad­min­is­tered by school per­son­nel — as med­i­ca­tions such as ibupro­fen must be — mean that teach­ers can show stu­dents how to put on their own sunscreen.

Cal­i­for­nia a leader

Sunscreen leg­is­la­tion is ap­peal­ing be­cause it doesn’t re­quire the state to spend money: sim­ply tell par­ents they can send sunscreen to school with their chil­dren. But as par­ents may al­ready know, just be­cause kids can wear sunscreen doesn’t mean they will.

Nor will school dis­tricts nec­es­sar­ily get the mes­sage.

Cal­i­for­nia was the leader in sunscreen leg­is­la­tion: The state en­acted a law in 2002 al­low­ing sunscreen to be used in schools with­out a doc­tor’s note and re­quir­ing schools to let stu­dents wear hats and pro­tec­tive cloth­ing when out­doors. “Billy’s Bill for Sun Safety” was named for Billy Gra­ham, who died of melanoma at the age of 22; a foun­da­tion started by his mother af­ter his death lob­bied for the leg­is­la­tion.

While many Cal­i­for­nia school dis­tricts up­dated their sunscreen poli­cies as a re­sult of Billy’s Bill, sur­veys have dis­cov­ered that “many schools had not changed their prac­tices even though the district had changed its pol­icy,” said Jeff Ash­ley, a Bur­bank, Cal­i­for­nia, der­ma­tol­o­gist

and pres­i­dent of Sun Safety For Kids, a non­profit that ad­vo­cates for im­proved school poli­cies and helped write the Cal­i­for­nia School Boards As­so­ci­a­tion sun safety pol­icy.

“From pass­ing the bill to ac­tual stu­dent be­hav­ior — there are a lot of steps in be­tween,” said Ju­lia Berteletti of Klein Buen­del, a Colorado health com­mu­ni­ca­tions firm that is work­ing with Ash­ley to study Cal­i­for­nia school dis­tricts’ com­pli­ance with the state sun safety pol­icy.

“We’re also find­ing, anec­do­tally, that even if a district passes a pol­icy, that doesn’t al­ways trans­late into the prin­ci­pal know­ing the pol­icy.”

Why might schools be slow to adopt the new ap­proach? “This is spec­u­la­tive, but I think schools ob­ject a lit­tle bit to hav­ing to

be babysit­ters. They feel a bit over­whelmed just try­ing to meet all the ed­u­ca­tional goals,” Ash­ley said, “even though ev­ery­one agrees that sun safety is pru­dent.”

Even if school per­son­nel be­gin pro­mot­ing sunscreen use with their stu­dents, gaug­ing whether kids are more pro­tected would be tough be­cause there is lit­tle in­for­ma­tion on how of­ten kids use sunscreen now, Berteletti says.

Re­gard­less of dif­fi­cul­ties in im­ple­men­ta­tion, the new state laws “send a clear mes­sage that this is some­thing we take se­ri­ously,” said Brod, the Pennsylvania der­ma­tol­o­gist. “We know be­yond a shadow of a doubt that sun­light is cancer-caus­ing. It sends that mes­sage to the par­ents, to the teach­ers. It re­ally is some­thing very im­por­tant.”

A boy sprays sunscreen in Scotts­dale, Ariz. which, like sev­eral other states re­cently en­acted laws declar­ing that stu­dents may use sunscreen in school and at af­ter-school ac­tiv­i­ties with­out a doc­tor’s note. (The As­so­ci­ated Press)

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