Schools have so much more responsibility than education

Welcome to the school year and all the issues our schools have to contend with besides educating New Mexico’s children.

Such as what has is required if a student needs to take a pill.

Even if you have had children in school in recent years, you may not know how complicated this is.

I thought I was posing a simple question when I asked about rules for medication in schools. But simplicity cannot be assumed when parents are putting their children in other people’s hands every day.

The minimum advice to parents is that before you send your child to school with even an aspirin, find out the rules of your school district. Each district makes its own rules within a general framework. Some may be different for elementary versus older students.

The national associations of pediatricians, pharmacists, nurses and others all have sets of guidelines. That’s how important this is. The guidelines are reflected in policies of the New Mexico Department of Health.

Most common: almost all medication should be delivered to the school nurse with written instructions from the family doctor. Most medications should be administered to students only by the nurse, based on those instructions. There are a few exceptions: for example, with proper documentation, districts may allow students to carry inhalers for asthma. Any medications considered to be narcotics have to be locked up.

A school nurse may not always be in the building. Some schools don’t have a nurse at all. The state rules provide for “Delegation to Unlicensed Assistive Personnel,” and require training for those staff members.

In Las Cruces, as an example, district policy allows older students to self-administer some medications. For this the parent needs not only a child with good sense but also a friendly local pharmacist. The student has to carry no more than a one day supply in a properly labeled pharmaceutical container from the drugstore. That means the student should have two containers, one for home and one to take to school.

Your district probably also has similar precautionary rules for field trips. Don’t assume you can pack a couple of pills along with the sandwiches. Again, your district may require pills to be in separate properly labeled containers.

An Albuquerque high school teacher told me: “Students are not allowed to carry ANY medication, prescription OR over the counter. Nor are they allowed to give meds to other students. This includes Tylenol, aspirin, etc…. Message to students and parents: possession of a drug is treated as possession of an illegal drug. Otherwise, how could a teacher/staff member know whether a student is popping legal or illegal pills? Or sharing them with peers?” (She noted there’s an exception for inhalers.)

So these policies have to be aimed at preventing not only accidental overdoses or some kid taking another kid’s medicine by mistake, but also students abusing drugs by deliberately sharing, selling, stealing or giving away medications.

Keep in mind, if you were the parent whose child was made sick by taking another student’s medication at school, you might do everything in your power to sue your school district or at minimum humiliate the administration. I mention this because it helps to explain how rules that may seem absurdly complicated are actually complicated for compelling reasons.

And how does a student in the middle of class go about asking the teacher for permission to go to the nurse’s office without exposing private matters to anyone within earshot? (Think: embarrassed teenage girl with menstrual cramps.) Teachers just have to figure it out.

Realistically, it’s easy enough to hide a few pills in a pocket and students probably get away with violations. My point is to help us appreciate that rules like these that may appear to be excessive bureaucracy are often very far from unnecessary.

Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2018

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