Bill would require students to have access to sunscreen at schools

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A measure meant to guarantee that students would have access to sunscreen at all times while at school could pass the Florida House of Representatives as part of a larger education bill.  House Bill 549 passed the Florida Senate on Thursday. 

The measure comes as medical professionals worry about the growing number of skin cancers among young people.  

Christine Bledsoe knows the pain of skin cancer.  The 36-year-old mom and former kindergarten teacher has been treated for four melanomas.  She recalls worrying about her students as they played in the scorching Florida sun without sunscreen. 

"The kids would get burnt and they would need to reapply and I wasn't able to do it,” Bledsoe said.

Her hands were tied by school policies that didn’t allow teachers to apply sunscreen, and because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers sunscreen an over-the-counter drug, school districts keep a close eye on how kids use it on campus. 

“It could impact another student. It could have a scent, it could cause some kind of damage to a student’s skin, get in the eyes,” said Dr. Michelle Walsh, the executive director of exceptional student support services for Seminole County Public Schools. “We want to make sure they have access to [sunscreen], we just want to know who has it and where it is on campus.” 

Walsh said Seminole County Public Schools requires elementary school students to check sunscreen into the school nurse’s office.  She said middle school and high school students are allowed to keep it with them on campus. 

Sunscreen polices in Florida are left up to each school district.  The Florida Society of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery said some school districts go as far as requiring a doctor’s note. 

“I think it's ridiculous.  The idea that kids aren't able to protect themselves from the sun in the sunshine state is worrisome,” said Dr. Terrence Cronin, a Melbourne-based dermatologist and president of the Florida Society of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery.

The measure that passed the Senate today says: “A student may possess and use a topical sunscreen product while on school property….without a physician’s note or prescription if they product is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.”

It’s an important clarification, Cronin said, because, “If we can protect [kids] now, while they're young, we can protect them from having something really ravaging later in life."

The National Cancer Institute estimates that approximately 500 children in America are diagnosed each year.
Although pediatric melanoma is rare, a recent study shows diagnoses are rising in the U.S., particularly in the age group of 15-19 years, by approximately 2% each year, according to the Melanoma Research Foundation. 

“We do link that to having a severe sunburn in your youth,” Cronin said.