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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sunscreen would no longer be a banned substance in schools under a new Washington law

FILE – Various sunscreen products photographed on Wednesday, May 26, 2010. (Evan Vucci / AP)
FILE – Various sunscreen products photographed on Wednesday, May 26, 2010. (Evan Vucci / AP)

OLYMPIA – Whether they know it or not, students in Washington schools may have an illegal substance in their purses, backpacks or gym bags. It’s not cigarettes, alcohol or marijuana.

It’s sunscreen.

Without a note from a doctor and a parent, state law and policy set by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction don’t allow students to bring sunscreen to school or apply it while they are there. Under state law school employees are also banned from lathering it on a student, even on bright sunny days.

“Every now and then we get a piece of legislation and we say ‘Really? We need a bill for this?’” said Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, who has introduced a bill to change the law.

The Senate K-12 Education Committee was told that state law requires any medication that a student has or uses requires both a note from a doctor and from a parent. That covers both prescription medication and over-the-counter medication.

Sunscreen, which is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, is technically an over-the-counter medication.

The policy has resulted in some students getting severe sunburns, said Melissa Gombosky, of the Personal Care Products Council. Rivers’ bill, which would exempt sunscreen, would lead to students learning about skin care and sun safety, considering that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, she said.

Oregon, California and Texas recently passed similar laws, Gombosky added.

Melissa Johnson, a representative of the school nurses’ organization, said the group generally supports the bill, but thinks it should require a parent or guardian provide the sunscreen to avoid problems with allergies.

Rivers says school employees wouldn’t be required to apply sunscreen to a student, and schools wouldn’t carry any liability from its use. The committee could vote on the bill sometime in the next 10 days.

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