Students in Rhode Island schools will not be denied the right to possess and apply sunscreen under legislation sponsored by Rep. David Bennett and unanimously approved by the House of Representatives on March 9.
The legislation (2021-H 5164), which has passed the House each year since 2017, ensures that students, as well as teachers and parents on school property, 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. Students in kindergarten through grade 5 would be required to have a permission note from a parent or guardian, and the bill specifies that school personnel are not required to assist students with application, nor shall they be held liable for any damages concerning sunscreen.
The bill will now head to the Senate, where Senate Health and Human Services Chairman Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence) is sponsoring companion legislation (2021-S 0034).
Bennett, who is a nurse, said he sponsored 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 Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston). “Schools send kids outside for recess every day. Some have a field day at the end of the school year, 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.”
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.
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.
Bennett said he hopes the legislation not only allows students to use sunscreen at school, but encourages them to wear it regularly.
“There’s no question that it’s safer for kids to put on sunscreen when they go outside. I know a lot of parents are really careful to slather it all over their kids all the time, but then they send them to school where they aren’t even allowed to have it. That’s unsafe and it sends kids a conflicting message about the very real danger of unprotected sun exposure. Instead, we should be telling them, ‘Listen to your mom. Wear sunscreen.’”
The legislation is cosponsored by House Deputy Majority Whip Mia A. Ackerman (D-Dist.45, Cumberland, Lincoln).