Sometimes this occurs because the schools don't allow students to have sunscreen; sometimes it is because teachers and/or school nurses are not permitted to apply it. But whatever the reason is, it should not happen!
We know the statistics ... one severe sunburn in youth can more than double the odds of getting melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. And melanoma is NOT something you ever want to have!
Sunscreen/sun protection restrictions in our schools are common. Some may permit sunscreen with a note from the parents; others may permit it with a note from your doctor. (Use the Skin Cancer Foundation's note from your doctor.) Some will not permit it, period. These policies can be changed ... but that will not happen without some help from you.
You will hear lots of different reasons why they have the policies in place that they do.
- Gang affiliated hats -- BUT schools can approve a style or color, or they could sell or supply sun-safety hats. It could be part of their "spirit" wear to get more kids to want to wear them.
- Inappropriate touching -- BUT teachers can demonstrate to the children the proper way to apply sunscreen (their "screen saver") or teach them how to apply to each other.
- "Zero tolerance" drug policy -- AND many school districts consider sunscreen as an over-the-counter drug like aspirin. These policies need to be amended to exempt sunscreen.
- Allergic reactions -- BUT reactions to sunscreens are very uncommon, and if a reaction does occur, it is minor.
"Even one severe sunburn in a child can more than double their odds of getting melanoma"
Some ideas of what you can do:
- First find out what your school's policy is on the use of sunscreen and the wearing of hats for sun safety during recess. Is it an individual school policy, the local school board policy, or a state policy? This will tell you what your next steps might be.
- If sunscreen policies are determined by your individual school, talk with your principal about the importance of sun safety. Approach your PTA about forming, if there is not already one, a sun safety committee. This committee could not only suggest a change in school policy regarding the safety of children in the sun, they could also do fundraising for shade projects at the playgrounds.
- If the sun safety policies are determined by your district school board, write a letter to your school board and school district superintendent explaining the importance of the children using sunscreen and wearing hats when outside for recess. Ask to be put on the agenda for a school board meeting to educate them and distribute sun safety materials. Take along a dermatologist or pediatrician to speak as well. Draw up a petition and ask parents, neighbors, and those in the medical community to sign it.
- If sunscreen policies are being made on the state level, contact your state senators and representatives. Educate them on the need to protect your children from the rising rates of melanoma.
- And contact your local chapter of the American Cancer Society or state dermatological society. They may be working on this already and would appreciate your help. Or they may be able to suggest other things you can do to get the word out and changes made.
Schools and school boards MUST revisit their restrictions on sunscreen and sun safety hats. As one who has been through the process of changing a school district policy, not for sunscreen use but many years ago to change dress code policy, I can tell you that change can happen, but it takes work and time.
YOU need to take action ... and you need to start NOW!!!
[March 2017 addition: Also see the program developed by Cancer Research UK for more ideas to promote sun safety in schools, including preschools and high schools.]
Melanoma Mama (Jaime's mom, Donna)
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