In the average school building today, there may be students with asthma who need to use inhalers, children who need to take antibiotics n during the school day, students with headaches who need an over-the-counter pain killer or students with upset stomachs who need an antacid.
In addition, there are students who take drugs for chemotherapy side effects, diabetes and allergies. Is it any wonder that our schools are beginning to feel like doctors’ offices or pharmacies.
In 2009, a new state law was enacted to change the rules about medications in schools. While the 2009 legislation made some important changes, the rules enacted by the Department of Public Instruction went beyond the initial intent of the legislation.
As a result, many school officials were concerned that it went too far and was not manageable. This week, the state Senate approved legislation I authored to make the law on medications in schools easier for schools to manage while still protecting the safety of students.
The 2009 law required parents to send medication to school in its original container, with the ingredients and dosage clearly visible along with written instructions from a parent. Prior to the 2009 law, schools reported that parents would send their children with a Ziploc bag of pills, but the school would not know how much to give or if the pills were even what the parent said they were.
During the public hearing on my bill, school nurses and other school officials reported that this had been a serious problem, and that parents sometimes sent the wrong pills. Senate Bill 45, the bill I authored, maintains this important protection.
While having medication come to school in the original container and clearly labeled makes a lot of sense, the unintended consequence of this was that schools could end up with 200 bottles of Advil and some schools simply did not have an easy way to store all of those bottles of pain killers. It might make more sense for them to buy a bottle of pain killers and dispense it as needed, or be able to accept a donation of over the counter medication from a local clinic. The 2009 law prohibited them from doing so. My bill, Senate Bill 45, allows schools to have over the counter drugs in stock.
The next issue with the 2009 law had to do with the training requirements for school personnel who are dispensing drugs. In some schools, the school nurse does this, but not all school districts have school nurses in each building all the time. In fact, very few do. It often falls to the school secretary or other personnel to dispense medications.
The 2009 law required all school personnel who dispense drugs to take an on-line training course developed by the Department of Public Instruction. School districts reported that the training took much longer to complete than the DPI said it would, which increased school staff costs.
Senate Bill 45 changes the mandate to require training only for drugs that are inhaled, injected, rectally administered or given through a feeding tube. This means that if a school official is handing out pills, they would not need additional training. But if they are giving insulin injections, they would.
The final change that Senate Bill 45 seeks to make has to do with the educational requirements for school nurses. After the 2009 law was enacted, the Department of Public Instruction wrote an administrative rule requiring schools to only hire nurses who have a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSNs). This meant that registered nurses who received their training through a two-year program at a technical college would not be eligible to be school nurses.
The DPI argued that the bachelor’s degree was necessary because of the additional public and community health training these nurses have.
Senate Bill 45 allows school districts to hire RNs who do not have bachelor’s degrees in nursing if they have taken additional courses in public health. Schools would still be permitted to hire BSNs if they choose. In fact, today most school nurses have BSN degrees.
Senate Bill 45 must now be approved by the Assembly and signed by the governor to become law.