Spring is coming to an end soon and most schools are about to close for the summer. This also marks the time of year when schools hold their annual field day, a celebration of fun and physical fitness. Unfortunately, it seems that every year presents at least one story where a child is severely sun burned during the outdoor activity because of the school’s policy of no sunscreen application.
Most schools, it seems, encourages the parents to apply sunscreen on the child before they arrive. They do not allow the child to administer their own sunscreen (at least at the elementary school level) because it’s considered the same as a controlled medication. In short, the school district does not want to accept responsibility should a child share the lotion (sunscreen or otherwise) in case the second child could be allergic. In some cases, such as when kids have a food allergy, the medicine (epipen in this case) is kept in the school nurse’s station and can only be administered by a trained individual. The same apparently holds true for other medications, including lotions. Including sunscreen.
Another reason for children getting sun burns during field day is that kids are often not allowed to wear hats. Teaching children good manners of not wearing one’s hat indoors is a good lesson. However, many no-hat policies were established not to teach manners, but to prevent clothing related to gang association.
The Center for Disease Control has developed “Guidelines for School Programs to Prevent Skin Cancer.” Within it, they recommend encouraging or requiring students to wear protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses. They also suggest establishing a routine for sunscreen use before going outside. Other organizations have recently encouraged smarter sun safety decisions within the schools.
I voiced my agreement to the CDC’s report last year to my wife. While she supports sun safety as well, she, a daycare teacher, brought up a good point. “Who’s going to apply sunscreen to the little kids?”
Teachers in daycare and elementary schools take care of many kids. In some cases, there are teacher’s assistants. However, many state and county governments are cutting back, so there are fewer assistants. At my wife’s daycare, one teacher could have up to 13 children. In elementary school, the number is double that. Very young kids simply cannot apply sunscreen by themselves. It would take an extended period of time for any one teacher to apply the sunscreen to 13 to 25 kids and expect to have any time left for the playground. It’s certainly a problem which has no real easy solution.
Last year, I sent out a survey of questions to teachers. I had hoped to analyze and present a detailed breakdown of the data, but my schedule never allowed me time. Still, I have the data and felt I might as well present the raw data for discussion. Here are the questions and the results.
1. Are you a teacher?
98% responded that they were.
2. If you are a teacher, what grade do you teach?
a) Pre-school 8%
b) K thru 2nd 34%
c) 3rd thru 5th 25%
d) Middle School 16%
e) High School 17%
3. How many children are in your class?
a) Less than 5 1%
b) 5 to 15 7%
c) 16 to 25 53%
d) More than 25 39%
4. Do you have a teaching assistant or another adult with you in class?
a) Yes 36%
b) No 64%
5. Do you feel children in your grade/age are capable of applying sunscreen by their selves?
a) Yes 53%
b) Yes, but assisted 33%
c) No 14%
6. Which statement best fits your opinion towards sunscreen application for your class?
a) All children MUST wear sunscreen during outdoor recess
b) Only those children whose parents request it must wear sunscreen during outdoor recess
c) Applying sunscreen to every child takes too much time
d) Other (most which state they simply are not allowed to apply by school rule)
7. Do you teach sun safety in your class?
a) Yes, it’s part of our curriculum 3%
b) Yes, although it’s not required teaching 63%
c) No, it’s not allowed under our curriculum 10%
d) No, this should not be taught in class 7%
e) Other 17% (Most stated they simply never thought of it)
8. Many schools ask that parents order class t-shirts to wear during field trips and “Spirit Days.” Do you feel that parents are willing to pay for class hats to wear during outdoor recess?
a) Yes 52%
b) No 40%
c) Another idea 8% (most comments suggest kids be allowed to bring their own within dress code)
I’m not a statistician, so I can’t really provide any scientific conclusions. It appears that there are no easy answers. Yes, we want our children safe in the sun…but no, with regards to younger kids, the teachers simply do not have the time or assistance. In many cases, allergies and touching (either transfer of germs or considered “inappropriate”) are a concern as well. Perhaps there needs to be a middle ground.
In my opinion, I’d like to see sun safety added to the school’s curriculum at every age group. There are many suggested age-specific education guidelines available…certainly the school boards can select one to cover various grades. I’d also like to see hats be allowed for outdoor use only. These can be school hats or a child’s personal hat. Sunglasses should be encouraged as well.
As for sunscreen, I really don’t know. I guess a couple more questions could have been added to the survey.
1. What do you feel is the proper age for a child to be trusted to apply their own sunscreen?
2. For younger children, and considering the limitations imposed on the teachers, how do you propose sunscreen be applied to younger kids?
Let me know your thoughts. It’s a debate worth having.
Postscript: My apologies for the poor formatting. Sometimes, numbering and bullets simply don't transfer well between MS Word and this blogging software. I'll try to make it more legible in the near future. -Al