Politics & Government

Bill would let schools give over-the-counter medicines

TOPEKA — A Wichita school district policy that requires a doctor's written order before school nurses can give over-the-counter medicine to students is "barbaric," a state senator said Tuesday.

Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, led a hearing on a bill that would allow school nurses to give over-the-counter medicine such as aspirin, Tylenol and ointments with parental consent. Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, is sponsor of the bill.

Schodorf, chairwoman of the Senate's education committee, said she wasn't sure what would happen with the bill, but she said "Wichita's policy is the most barbaric" in the state.

Proponents of the bill say Wichita's policy hurts students from low-income families who may not have access to health care outside the school or transportation to see a doctor.

Faust-Goudeau told her colleagues that the issue was brought to her attention in September. The Eagle reported then that some parents felt the policy was outdated.

"I think this piece of legislation would help those individuals who are uninsured or underinsured who don't have access to just call their physician to get the authorization," Faust-Goudeau said.

Opponents of the bill say it could open up school districts to lawsuits if children became sick from over-the-counter medicines. Proponents of the bill say school nurses are educated and can help students stay in school. They say requiring a parent to get a doctor's order to give out medication can cause students to miss school and parents to miss work.

Faust-Goudeau shared a personal story involving her 16-year-old daughter. Faust-Goudeau said she had taken her daughter to see the orthodontist and dropped her back at school afterward.

She said she was on her way to Topeka when her daughter called and told her that her mouth hurt. Faust-Goudeau said she had to turn around, go back to the orthodontist's office and get authorization for the school nurse to give her daughter Tylenol.

"For me it certainly would have been a convenience to have the school nurse provide that pain relief with just my consent," Faust-Goudeau said.

Doug Everingham, a former social worker for the Wichita school district, said nurses asked him on occasion to take a child home because of minor pain the child was experiencing.

"In all these cases," Everingham said, "the parent or parental caregiver had been called but for numerous reasons could not provide transportation for the child. Had the school nurse been allowed to administer over-the-counter medication, the child could have remained in school."

Monica Williams, a school nurse for the Augusta district, said she is allowed to give students over-the-counter medication. Requiring a doctor's involvement is a "heavy burden of time and money on parents and the health system," she said.

"They're over-the-counter for a reason, and that's so physicians don't have to prescribe them," Williams said. "On any given day, a school nurse may be a family's only access to health care."

Mandy Pilla, a former Wichita school nurse who is now retired, said, "We are not a Blue Valley or an Augusta," referring to school districts that allow nurses to give over-the-counter medicine to students.

She said the district has the largest special-education population in the state and those students often take several drugs that could interact with over-the-counter medicine.

Even if schools had parents sign a disclaimer that they would not be held liable for any medical problems caused by over-the-counter medicine, the nurses themselves still could be held liable.

"Tylenol is not a benign medication," Pilla said.

While she called the bill "very well-intentioned," she said Wichita's current policy protects students and the district.

Diane Gjerstad, a lobbyist for Wichita schools, said the district's concern about the bill is "we're reading that if you have a policy on meds, any medicine a parent would send would have to be distributed."

She said individual school districts should be able to set their own policies, and that any state law would need to be manageable.

"We don't want to have a fully stocked pharmacy," she said.

Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said her son had cancer and couldn't imagine having to get a doctor's order "every time he needed a throat lozenge." She said caring for him was hard enough without adding that burden.

"I think we need to think about the kids," she said.