Is Your Child’s School Sun Smart?

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • During a typical school day, children might spend and hour or two outside, often in the direct sunlight. Your child might have two recesses per day, gym class held outside, after-school activities and sports, field days and field trips - all activities that occur when the UV rays are strongest. Your child might sit near the windows at school. While you might be diligent about applying sunscreen and taking steps to protect your child from the harmful rays. But, especially with younger children, you must rely on the school to make sure your child is protected throughout the day and throughout the year.

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    Practicing sun safety is new to schools. In the past, sun protection was never given a second thought. Many recess yards around the country offer no shady areas and sunscreen was never mentioned. The attitude toward sun exposure is changing. Just recently, the U.S. Surgeon General stated skin cancer is a “major public health problem,” and called on companies and public institutions to provide shade and become more involved in helping protect employees from sun damage. Schools must do their part as well. In 2002, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that school districts begin to implement programs to reduce children’s exposure to UV rays.

    A study completed in 2011 looked at whether direct intervention would help motivate schools to implement programs to reduce sun exposure. Researchers looked at schools in both Colorado and Southern California, choosing some schools at random to provide information, tools and assistance, including meeting with administrators, making presentations to school boards, and providing written materials. The researchers looked at sun safety programs after 2 years. While they didn’t find major differences in adopting policies between those who received information and assistance and those that did not, they did note that those who had interventions adopted much stronger policies than those districts who did not receive additional information and assistance.

    Schools within these districts were also looked at in 2012 for a separate study, which showed that a little more than one-half of the schools in California had implemented sun safety programs, providing education, sunscreen and protective clothing. Only 7.8 percent of schools in Colorado had adopted any protective measures. Ten years after the recommendations from the CDC, only about one-third of school districts had instituted any programs to educate students about sun-safety or provide programs for reducing sun exposure.

    As a parent, you can help make a difference in your school district. Start by contacting your school district to find out what your district’s policy is. If you aren’t sure what to write, Coppertone offers a sample letter you can download. Other ways you can get involved and make a differences:

    Attend PTA meetings to initiate conversations about sun safety. Ask about the current policies and offer to help to make the policies stronger.

  • Work with the PTA or health professionals in your school district to create an educational presentation for students, teachers and administrators that can be incorporated into health class or during a school assembly. .

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    Ask teachers and other school personnel to set an example by using sunscreen and wearing appropriate clothing, such as wide brimmed hats, when outdoors.

    Open discussions on providing shade in play areas. This includes trees, play structures or open sided tents. If the school doesn’t currently have any shade in areas where children take receiss, talk with local businesses and ask them to sponsor the play areas by donating materials, trees or money to provide shade.

    Ask local businesses for donations of sunscreen and hats that can be distributed to the children before going outdoors.

    Keep in mind, some school districts may restrict the use of sunscreen, allowing it only with a note from parents or a doctor. This is to avoid any possible allergic reactions. Find out what your school district’s policy is so you can inform other parents and provide the appropriate documentation.


Published On: August 06, 2014