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Washington state mother fights no-sunscreen policy in schools

Children suffer severe, but preventable, sunburns

Published: Wednesday, June 27 2012 3:19 p.m. MDT

Sunscreen can help prevent dangerous sun exposure.

Paul Barker

Enlarge photo»

TACOMA, Wash. — A Washington state mother is taking action against her school district after her children suffered severe but likely entirely preventable burns because they were prohibited from applying sunscreen at school.

"Jesse Michener's daughters Violet, 11, and Zoe, 9, set out from their home last Tuesday for an all-day school event," reports Jillian Eugenios in a Today Health article. "The morning had been a rainy one but by noon the rain gave way to sun, and the girls began to burn. Violet and Zoe were not allowed to apply sunscreen due to a school policy against it, even though Zoe suffers from a form of albinism, a genetic condition that makes her particularly sun-sensitive."

The mother is challenging the school policy on sunscreen use, which is in place as a precautionary measure to protect children from potential adverse effects.

"Because so many additives in lotions and sunscreens cause allergic reaction in children, you have to really monitor that," said Dan Voelpel, Tacoma School District spokesman, in an ABC News article.

"When Michener pressed school officials on the ban, they told her that there is a state-wide policy that does not allow staff to apply sunscreen to students, and students can only apply it themselves if they have a doctor’s note," according to the Today article. "The law exists because the additives in lotions and sunscreens can cause an allergic reaction in children, and sunscreens are regulated by the FDA as an over-the-counter drug. Michener discovered that the policy exists in 49 states nationwide; California is the only state to allow sunscreen in school without a doctor’s note."

The potential danger of sun exposure and the increasing need for effective sun protection in society, especially among youth, are topics highlighted in a recent New York Times article.

"Childhood is the most critical time for avoiding sun-induced harm later in life," the New York Times reports. "As much as 80 percent of a person’s lifetime exposure to skin-damaging ultraviolet rays occurs by age 18. Multiple studies have shown that the more youngsters are exposed to the sun early in life, especially if they suffer serious sunburns, the greater the risk of later developing both superficial skin cancers and deadly melanomas."

The Washington mother has gained momentum and support in her case recently, and her efforts, including blogging about the incident, led to an apology from the school district, which says it's in the process of revising its sunscreen rules to allow for more flexibility. The district says those revisions will be completed by October.

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