Our view

Let school districts decide med policies

January 26, 2014 

  • In summary

    School districts need the latitude to find the best balance between safety and helping students with minor health problems.

The relaxed medication policies at the Rock Hill and Fort Mill school districts appear to be a sensible approach to meeting the needs of students and reducing unnecessary red tape for parents and school officials.

Both school districts had changed their medication policies in reaction to a recommendation from the state boards of medical examiners, nursing and pharmacy that called for requiring a doctor’s permission to dispense medication of any kind, including all over-the-counter remedies. It was a major policy change for both districts, which had been passing out medications such as Tylenol, Benadryl and Orajel to students as long as their parents had given the OK to do so.

“Water and air” would be the only thing districts could give students, said Keith Wilks, executive director of students services in the Rock Hill school district, at the time. Recently, however, the state boards amended their recommendation to allow school districts to adjust their policies as they see fit.

That prompted the Rock Hill and Fort Mill school districts to go back to the way they had been doing things before.

But when the more stringent policies were enacted last year, Wilks noted that the changes would be frustrating for everyone, which turned out to be prophetic. Local doctors immediately complained that the policy change would mean more work and more staff time spent on handing out permission slips for over-the-counter drugs.

Parents who had been accustomed to merely giving their permission for children to use basic meds had to contact doctors and, in some cases, schedule visits to get the authorization for schools to dispense medications to their children. To many, the policy seemed to defy common sense.

After all, parents could give their children over-the-counter medicines at home. Why shouldn’t they be allowed to authorize school officials to do the same?

But the York school district has had a policy for years that requires doctors’ orders for dispensing any medications, including over-the-counter meds. And the district apparently has adopted well to that policy.

There are valid arguments in favor of requiring a doctor to sign off on over-the counter medications. For one thing, it helps prevent school nurses’ offices from being bombarded by requests for pills, potions and ointments all day.

Some school officials also note that nurses might not be qualified to diagnose a student’s condition and choose the appropriate medication in a school setting. Besides, schools shouldn’t be fostering the idea among students that the medicine cabinet has an over-the-counter remedy for anything that ails them.

Schools, however, have to be ready for certain emergencies. For example, even with the restrictions on over-the-counter medications, schools still had to stock EpiPens for children with life-threatening allergic reactions.

Parents should provide EpiPens to kids with allergies, but they are expensive – sometimes $200 apiece – and children can’t be counted on to carry them at all times.

Ultimately, we think the Rock Hill and Fort Mill school districts opted for a realistic approach in going back to the more relaxed policy. If a child comes to a school nurse with teeth sore from braces, the nurse should be able to apply some Orajel or give the child a pain reliever. Nurses shouldn’t be diagnosing serious illnesses in school, but most have enough experience to take care of day-to-day health problems that can be helped by non-prescription medicines.

We think the boards were correct to give school districts the latitude to set their own policies. No perfect balance exists for all districts, but common sense should prevail.

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