Kansas School District Medication Policy Challenged

Filed under: In The News

Throat scratchy? Better call Mom to bring a cough drop. Credit: Getty Images


Imagine having to rush to your child's school every time he scrapes his knee, or leaving work to apply sunscreen before he heads outside for recess. For parents with kids in the Wichita, Kan., school district, this is a reality.

A long-standing Wichita school district policy forbids school staff -- even nurses -- from administering over-the-counter (OTC) medications to students, including cough drops, pain relievers, antibiotic ointments and sunscreen, without a doctor's written consent and specific instructions, according to The Wichita Eagle.

But one area group, the Peace and Social Justice Center of South Central Kansas, is now pushing for change, alleging that the current policy is outdated and unrealistic, and that it particularly hurts children from poor and working-class families. It's asking that a more lenient policy be enacted -- one that would simply require parents to consent to their child's treatment with OTC medication.

"All children ... should have the right to reasonable treatment and compassionate care during the school day," organization spokesperson Diane Wahto tells the Eagle.

But Kathy Hubka, Wichita's director of health services, tells the Eagle there are a number of reasons the district's policy makes sense -- the first of which is that even simple medications come with risks.

Amy Garcia, executive director of the National Association of School Nurses, agrees and tells ParentDish best practice dictates that OTC medication be administered under a doctor's order and under the supervision of a school nurse.

"The difficulty in giving over-the-counter medication to children is that just because it's over-the-counter does not necessarily mean it's safe," Garcia says. "Children, because of their metabolism and size, are uniquely susceptible to interaction and drug overdose."

Hubka offers up a more philosophical reason, as well.

"We are a society that is very quick to say, 'You have a headache? Take a pill. You have a stomachache? You don't feel good? Here, take some of this'," she tells the Eagle.

Similarly, Garcia stresses that pills are not a panacea.

"Pills are not really the answer to every question, sometimes it's a matter of assessment," she tells ParentDish. "Children may report symptoms, but maybe it's a math class or bullying or something going on at home."

Local doctors interviewed by the Eagle, however, are not in favor of the district's policy.

"Over the years I cannot ever remember declining a request for over-the-counter medication to be administered by school personnel," Philip Cherven, director of pediatric education and associate director of the Via Christi Family Practice Residency Program, tells the newspaper. "It would benefit everyone if (the Wichita policy) followed state policy and required physician signatures for prescription medications only."

Wichita is not the only district in the United States that restricts OTC medication use at school, according to Garcia, but she says policies vary widely across the country.

In Kansas, for example, several school districts do allow students to take some OTC medications with only parental consent -- a measure that has received support from both parents and school staff, the Eagle reports.

The Augusta, Kan., school district requires parents to complete a medical information form during enrollment, which includes an option to authorize the school to administer several common OTC medications. The form also includes a waiver certifying that the child has previously received these medications with no adverse effects, and requires that the parent agree not to hold the district responsible for possible adverse reactions.

"I have a child, and I'm not going to take my child to the doctor and pay a $20 co-pay because they have a headache ... With the way people are having issues with jobs and the economy right now, I don't think it's fair to ask a parent to take an hour off work and come down and check out their child when they're fine," Monica Guilliams, a nurse at the Ewalt and Lincoln elementary schools in Augusta, tells the newspaper.

Garcia tells ParentDish she understands how parents feel, but there are considerations to take into account.

"Parents tend to look at it, as 'this would make sense for my child'," she says. "But when school policy needs to be set, you need to look at what works for a wide variety of children."

Related: Immunizing Children May Help the Whole Community, Study Shows

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.