TACOMA, Wash. – Jesse Michener was horrified Tuesday evening when she returned home from work to find two of her three daughters severely sunburned after field day at Point Defiance Elementary School.
It was raining when the girls left for school Tuesday morning, but the sun came out midday and ended up burning Violet and Zoe so severely that their mother took them to Tacoma General Hospital that evening.
Tacoma Public Schools policy prohibits teachers from putting sunscreen on students. Students can apply their own, but are required to have a doctor’s note authorizing them to use it.
District spokesman Dan Voelpel says the doctor’s note policy is actually based on a statewide law, and is aimed at preventing kids from sharing sunscreen with someone who might have an allergy. He says there are many students in the district with allergies to common additives in sunscreens and lotions.
Parents are encouraged to apply sunscreen before sending their children to school, or dress them appropriately for sunny weather.
Michener takes full responsibility for her decision not to put sunscreen on the girls before they left the house, but says ultimately, that point is irrelevant. For the sunscreen to be effective, it would have had to be reapplied midday anyway.
Michener says she has trouble understanding why the adults who reportedly commented on her daughters’ worsening burns didn’t simply remove them from the sun and have them wait inside for field day to finish, or give Michener a call and ask her to stop by with sunscreen for her children.
“There’s a break in common sense,” she says. “If they were over a hive of bees, you would remove them from the problem.”
One of her daughters has a documented type of albinism – and Michener says teachers and administrators at the school are well-aware of her sensitivity.
Today Violet and Zoe are home from school, with peeling faces, headaches and chills.
Michener spent her morning writing letters to the district and school board members asking for a more “parent-friendly” policy.
“I mean having a doctor’s note, that’s the most unintuitive policy I’ve ever heard of, and not only that, it’s impractical,” she said.
Depending on a family’s medical coverage, that bottle of sunscreen could end up costing quite a bit.
Michener says she’s spoken with other parents whose children were also burned during field day, and at least one told her that she was considering filing a complaint with the district.
She says she’d like the district to consider a policy change, enabling staff to make decisions in the best interest of their students, or consider allowing parents to sign some sort of waiver allowing staff to apply sunscreen to their children.
Voelpel says a change would require a district-wide policy change.
“In the end, this is not about a sunburn,” Michener says. “It’s about the administration’s inability to act when a child is in danger.”