STUARTS DRAFT, Va. — The skin on Grace Karaffa's lips doesn't handle the elements very well at all.
The Stuarts Draft Elementary fifth-grader's lips chap until they bleed. For years when it's happened during school, she asked teachers for relief with lip balm, only to be denied repeatedly per countywide school policy instituted for sanitation reasons.
During her fourth grade year this past winter, the bleeding started, and Grace was denied Chapstick use.
"Later that day, they started to bleed again, and my teacher said it was against the school policy to have Chapstick during school, so I had to go to the bathroom," she recalled inside her home in Stuarts Draft.
The first day of the school year, Grace decided she'd take action and seek relief from Augusta County Schools' Chapstick ban, said her father, David Karaffa.
"She came home and said, 'Dad, I want to change this Chapstick rule,'" Karaffa said.
Grace gathered hundreds of signatures from students in support of ending the lip balm prohibition. She wrote a letter to school board members and on Sept. 4 presented her petition binder to them at their regular meeting.
The board and central office have taken the request and petition under advisement, a front office official said.
Grace, who is 11, began complaining about the lip balm ban since the second grade, and had her fill of it by the start of the current school year when she complained again, her father said.
"I said, well, go talk to the principal," said Karaffa, a member of the county Board of Supervisors. "Talk to the teacher. Talk to everybody."
Grace followed up and started a petition drive on notebook paper. She was invited to speak in front of some classrooms and other teachers offered to pass it around.
The notebook pages filled with names and began stacking up. Her father thought she needed more formal petition papers with the issue spelled out at the head and lines for signatures, he said.
"I made a sheet up for her, and she started carrying those around and started filling those things like crazy," Karaffa said. "I was impressed."
And he was won over to the cause of overturning the Chapstick ban.
The prohibition has been in place since a disease outbreak persuaded Augusta County Schools officials to seek advice from the local Health Department and doctors, said George Earhart, assistant superintendent for administration.
Elementary school students share buildings with prekindergarten children, and a misplaced stick of lip balm would be an inviting object for one of them to put in their mouths, and, well, share with their classmates, Earhart said.
"Our policy is not to be so restrictive. It is really a protection for the students," he said. As with other medications, kids can get their doctors to permit nurses to apply Chapstick in the office, or parents can come in to administer it themselves, Earhart said.
Middle and high school students can carry a day's supply of all over-the-counter medications.
Administration officials are gathering information to get back with the Karaffas, he said. "Any of our policies certainly could be looked at and reviewed," Earhart said.
Meantime, Grace plans to contact board members again in a way that emphasizes her particular cause.
"I'm gonna send a letter to every school board member and a tube of Chapstick," she said.
Information from: The News Leader, http://www.newsleader.com