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Parents Talk: Should Teachers Help Kids Apply Sunscreen?

Many districts have rules that limit or bar staff from helping students apply sunscreen.

When the sun is bright and the temperatures rise, it’s no secret that protecting little ones’ sensitive skin with sunscreen is vital

That’s why a Tacoma, WA, mom was so surprised last week to see two of her three daughters come home from their school’s field day so severely burned that she took them to the hospital.

The mother later learned that teachers couldn’t simply apply sunscreen to the girls because Tacoma Public Schools policy bars teachers from putting it on students and requires a doctor’s note for students who want to apply their own.

Sunscreen rules are not just a feature of far-off Washington. Patch talked with Minnesota districts and found a range of policies ranging from nonexistent to limits on staff assistance:

  • staff are generally not involved with sunscreen application. If the students are going on a field trip, the release form will ask families to send sunscreen or apply it before going to school. When the district’s Kids Club visits the pool in the summer, staff ask families to send sunscreen to have on site.  
  • At before- and after-school program, Kids and Company, parents sign a permission slip when they register allowing staff to apply sunscreen. If they sign the permission slip, any staff can apply the sunscreen. If they don’t sign the permission slip, staff can’t apply sunscreen.
  • does not have a district policy on sunscreen use. A district spokesman speculated that may be because students spend most of the day indoors, where they have limited exposure to the sun.

None of the districts Patch talked to required a doctor’s note.

It’s easy to understand why districts don’t want staff applying sunscreen to students willy-nilly. With risks ranging from allergies to inappropriate touching—or even just the perception of inappropriate touching—a hand-off approach avoids the all-but-inevitable problems.

At the same time, sunburns have real risks, too. Exposure to the sun is the leading cause of skin cancer, and 60 to 80 percent of total lifetime sun exposure takes place in the first 18 years of life, according to Johns Hopkins. Students, especially young ones, aren’t always going to be able to apply sunscreen well enough to protect themselves from those risks.

So what do you think is the best way to keep kids safe? Should teachers be able to apply sunscreen when they think it’s needed? Should sunscreen only be applied by the students themselves? Should there be some balance that requires parental permission or limits sunscreen duties to select staff, such as the school nurse? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Michael Rose June 28, 2012 at 07:35 PM
The spray-on seems to be a decent middle ground here. Doesn't enter the potentially sticky area of having to apply lotion to a child, but can still keep them safe from rays.
Wendy Erlien June 29, 2012 at 02:27 AM
There is a lot of discussion on this on the Maple Grove Patch Facebook page. http://www.facebook.com/MapleGrovePatch Here's what some people had to say: - Not a fan of that thought. -I'm torn here. I think it is the parents responsibility to apply it before sending their kid to school, but we all know we need to reapply it throughout the day. If kid is old enough they should do it themselves with a teacher watching. I can see if teachers were to do it some parents would "think inappropriate touching" If the old enough to reapply it then they should, if they are toddlers well I would want the teacher to then him being unprotected! -Yes, the word is "help". We need to be so much better about sunscreen on our kids everyday! Unfortunately in today's lawsuit happy world, this will never happen. -Yes, they should definitely help. If we are hiring the right teachers with proper background checks and screening then there shouldn't be an issue. We also need to teach them trust rather than the fear that is pounded into them these days. -Absolutely! Applying it is going to help; not applying (or re-applying) is not going to help. -They do have spray sunscreen, so if you are worried about a teacher touching your kids.
Lisa Baumann June 29, 2012 at 02:30 AM
From comments on this topic on Shakopee Patch's Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ShakopeePatch "It is not a teachers job to raise your kids..." "Apply before school or come along (on a field trip) and do your kid. NOT A TEACHERS JOB!"
Leah June 30, 2012 at 05:13 AM
Lisa Baumann -That is the most ignorant statement and argument I have ever heard. This is NOT a parenting issue but a safety issue.
Kristen Piper July 04, 2012 at 03:26 PM
I was curious when I first read this headline. I never thought of it as concern so I asked some friends in other communities. Other communities do not allow the spray, because off all the other environment and splash on to the other issues. It seems to me a silly debate. I know some arguments are the time it takes. I would hate to think we are going to keep our children inside in order to keep from having to apply sunscreen. Obviously younger children are not able to apply themselves...so they need help. Older kids can start learning how to apply and try their best with adult oversight. It is not something that we have to worry about during the school day (for the most part), but the summer programs of course, children will need to have it applied. And for those adults who can not control their impulses with children....well hopefully all the safe guards in place to identify them and not allow them to be around children!!! Or have a policy that the sun screen line has to be in a public place (if that is the concern). Please let my child play outside Monday thru Friday when I am at work, and thanks for keeping his skin as safe as it can be (KidsPlace)!

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