Students will be able to bring sunscreen to school under bill passed by General Assembly
STATE HOUSE – Students in Rhode Island schools will not be denied the right to possess and apply sunscreen under legislation sponsored by Rep. David A. Bennett and Sen. Joshua Miller that was approved by the General Assembly before it recessed for the summer.
The legislation (2021-H 5164, 2021-S 0034A) ensures that students, as well as teachers and parents on school property or at school events will be allowed to have and use sunscreen at school, despite state regulations that prohibit anyone other than a school nurse from administering medications, including Food and Drug Administration-approved substances like sunscreen, or possessing them without a doctor’s note or prescription.
Under current law, a student can go to school wearing sunscreen, but cannot bring the product to school and reapply it there. Most sunscreens recommend reapplication every two hours, or after swimming or sweating.
The bill, which now goes to the governor, has been introduced by Representative Bennett and Senator Miller every year since 2017.
The sponsors said they introduced the bill because regular sunscreen use has long been recommended as a means to prevent sun damage and skin cancer, and any policy that stops children from using sunscreen flies in the face of public health and safety.
“The dangers of unprotected sun exposure are well-known. Kids, in particular, need protection both because their skin is more delicate and because even one bad sunburn as a child vastly increases a person’s chances of getting skin cancer. We are really throwing the baby out with the bathwater if we are telling kids they can’t have sunscreen in school because of a medication policy that’s supposed to be protecting their health,” said Representative Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston), who is a nurse and serves as chairman of the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee. “Schools send kids outside for recess every day. Some have a field day in June, when the kids are out in the sun all day long. Of course those kids should be able to have sunscreen and reapply it. This is common-sense legislation.”
Said Senator Miller, who serves as chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, “There is absolutely no question that it’s safer for kids to wear sunscreen when they go outside, and generally speaking, there’s no way to abuse it. Kids are taught in health class about the importance of wearing sunscreen, so it’s sending them a confusing message if they’re not allowed to reapply it according to the directions if they need to at school. It’s about time we fixed this incongruity and let kids possess and reapply a safe product that protects them from painful sunburns and potentially cancer.”
The legislation allows anyone to possess and use a topical sunscreen product without a physician’s note or prescription while on school property or at a school-related event activity, as long as the product is regulated by the FDA for over-the-counter use. It also states that school personnel are not required to assist students in applying the product, nor can schools be held liable for damages resulting from sunscreen’s use. The bill encourages schools to teach children about sun protection.
Under the bill, children in grades kindergarten through 5 would need to bring in a note from their parent or guardian giving them permission to have sunscreen.
Similar legislation or regulations have been adopted in 25 states and Washington, D.C., according to the Personal Care Products Council, which supports the legislation along with a coalition that includes the Rhode Island Dermatology Society, the Children’s Melanoma Prevention Foundation, and many other medical societies.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, a single blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.
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