Wash. school's sunscreen policy leaves two sisters badly burned

Violet, 11, and Zoe, 7, display the sunburn they suffered at their school's field day in photos provided by their mother Jesse Michener.
Jesse Michener
sunburn, jesse michener, tacoma
Violet, 11, and Zoe, 9, display the sunburn they suffered at their school's field day in photos provided by their mother Jesse Michener.
Jesse Michener

(CBS News) Nasty cases of sunburn experienced by a Wash. woman's two young daughters has thrust the spotlight on school safety policies that may be falling short of that goal.

Jesse Michener wrote on her blog on June 20 that two of her three daughters, 9-year-old Zoe and 11-year-old Violet, came home badly burned from a field day at Point Defiance Elementary School in Tacoma, Wash. The mother told HealthPop that she received a call from Zoe telling her that she felt sick with dizziness, headache and sunburn.

Even worse, the principal told Michener that the school couldn't apply sunblock on the fair-skinned children because of a policy that prevents the use of medication -- even sunscreen -- without a physician's consent.

"Yesterday's Field Day at my kids' school went horribly wrong," Michener began her post. "Two of my three children experienced significant sunburns. Like, hurts-to-look-at burns."

On her blog, Michener says Zoe was diagnosed with a form of albinism, a genetic condition in which the skin contains little or no pigment. Her daughter went home early where her father was waiting, who sent pictures to his wife. Michener rushed home, where she saw both daughters were badly burned.

"I was horrified," she said. After giving the girls fluids and putting them to rest, she went to the school after hours where she met the principal.

"I said (to the principal), 'Have you seen my girls?'" Michener recalled. "(The principal) said, 'Oh my gosh, they're so burnt.'" When Michener asked why no one had given her daughters sunscreen or removed them from the outdoor activities, the principal said their hands were tied since it was school policy that a child requires a prescription in order to use medication, even over-the-counter kinds like sunscreen. One of the teachers even applied sunscreen to herself in front of her daughter, Michener stated.

The student handbook posted on the school district's website states a physician must authorize all medications, and they must be kept in the nurse's office in a locked cabinet.

District spokesman Dan Voelpel told CBS affiliatie KPIC in Roseburg, Oregon that the doctor's note policy is actually based on a statewide law, aimed at protecting kids who might have an allergy to ingredients in sunscreen.

The girls were taken to Tacoma General Hospital to be examined by doctors, Michener said.

"They were on track for a heat stroke," Michener said. "They've never experienced five hours of direct sun at school or anywhere else."

Michener recalled that it was raining the morning her daughters got burned,so she didn't apply sunscreen to her daughters because she assumed the field day would be held inside. Even if the sun came out, the campus had shaded areas and her daughters had never come home sunburned before.

She also added that her daughters said that parent volunteers and teachers were commenting on how burned the girls were getting throughout the day, but did not offer assistance. Hats are also not allowed at the school.

"If there's a policy tying their hands from keeping the kids safe, that's not right," she explained, calling it a lapse in common sense. "At the end of the day, remove the child from harm."

The girls stayed home the next day to recover, but went to school for the final four days. Both girls' conditions have since improved, Michener said, but she plans to partner with several advocacy groups that have initiatives aimed at spreading awareness or changing local and state policies. Michener said a similar medication policy requiring a prescription for over-the-counter products exists in 49 states.

"Parents have to be proactive and understanding of sunscreen policy by district," Michener said. "If you can't stand it, change it."

NBC'sToday Show reports that the school district said it since apologized to Michener and said it plans to revise the policy by October.