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Katie Sanders
By Katie Sanders May 17, 2011

State senator claims school nurses can't give aspirin without parent's permission

In a show of Republican muscle, Florida lawmakers passed several bills relating to abortion during this year’s legislative session.

One proposal awaiting the signature of Gov. Rick Scott requires young women who want a judge to waive the parental-notification requirement to obtain the waiver in a circuit court closer to their home rather than a wider-reaching appeals court.

Opponents insist HB 1247 violates the privacy of young women who live in small communities and know most people in their area, including people who work at the courthouse. But supporters say it prevents teens from crossing the state to find a sympathetic judge in order to get an abortion without their parents’ knowledge.

Sen. Steve Oelrich, a Republican from Gainesville and cosponsor of the Senate version, had an interesting take during a May 5, 2011, debate on the Senate floor.

"You can’t give a child an aspirin in school without permission," he said. "You can’t do any kind of medication, but we can secretly take the child off and have an abortion. We should support it (HB 1247) with all our hearts and souls if parental responsibility means anything to us."

Oelrich’s claim left us wondering: Is it really that hard for students to get over-the-counter medication at school?

We should explain that we're not ruling on Oelrich's statement that young women can "secretly" have abortions. We already know this is legal in certain cases under Florida law. Implementation of HB 1247 would limit which courts can make the decisions for women who seek waivers of the parental notification law, not strip their ability to have secret procedures.

Florida law

The Florida Statutes have straightforward directions for handling prescription medication at school. The law requires a student’s parent to submit a written statement with the medicine that permits a trained school official to administer a dose. The note must also explain why the medicine must be taken during the school day.

The prescription medicine must be administered at school by a qualified official and then be counted, stored in the original container, and kept in a secured place.

Beyond that, the law does not address the use of over-the-counter medication. The statutes leave that decision up to local school districts. We set out to check each one to learn if Oelrich's claim is true.

We tracked down policies for 62 of 67 counties. Most were available online.

It took time to be sure, but Oelrich is right. Every district requires parental consent for non-prescription medication, sometimes in writing and sometimes by phone.

Notifying a parent is the minimum step for many other districts, including Charlotte, Baker and Miami-Dade. These districts require a physician's note, too.

"We don’t administer anything in Charlotte County without doctors' orders," said Gail Buck, supervisor of the county’s school health services. "No cough drops, no Tylenol."

Aspirin warnings

There's another part to this claim: Oelrich specifically invoked aspirin on the Senate floor.

Some of the school nurses we interviewed practically shuddered at the word.

The reason? Aspirin use among children is linked to the development of Reye's Syndrome, a lethal disease that sets in after a viral infection and affects all organs of the body, according to the National Reye's Syndrome Foundation.

The National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are among entities that recommend not using aspirin, or combination medicine containing aspirin, for children under 19 during fever-causing illnesses.

"We stay away from all aspirin products and stuff," said Catherine Reckenwald, student health specialist for Citrus County Schools. "You don’t know if a child has an allergy, so you need to have very specific instructions for each student."

Reckenwald said Tylenol is more appropriate for children, but she does not keep a supply in her clinic. This is standard practice at most of the school health centers we contacted.

"We do not have what is called 'standing orders,' " said Janice Karst, St. Lucie County School Board director of communications.

In case you were wondering, students are allowed to self-administer epinephrine auto-injectors, metered dose inhalers, pancreatic enzyme supplements and diabetic supplies if they have a doctor's note and parental consent.

Our ruling

The thrust of Oelrich's point is correct: You can’t give a child an aspirin in school without permission. To administer any non-prescription medication, school officials must have approval from the parent. And in some cases, the schools also need a note from a doctor -- even for cough drops. While Oelrich is right about the permission part, he specifically mentioned aspirin so we should add that giving aspirin to children is considered risky because of the medicine's connection to a deadly disease. But that wasn't exactly Oelrich's point in a debate over abortion and a minor's right to privacy. We rate his claim True.

Our Sources

Parental permission for abortions, WCTV Tallahassee, published April 25, 2011

HB 1247,

Senate approves two abortion bills, sending them to Gov. Scott, The Tampa Tribune, published May 5, 2011

Two more abortion bills heading to Gov. Rick Scott, St. Petersburg Times, published May 5, 2011

E-mail interview with Cheryl Etters, Department of Education spokeswoman, May 9, 2011

Section 1006.062, 2011 Florida Statutes

Section 390.0114, 2011 Florida Statutes

Senate sends 2 more abortion measures to Fla. gov, Miami Herald, published May 5, 2011

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Symptom Relief Q&A

National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Reye's Syndrome page

Joy Frank, Florida Association of District School Superintendents general counsel, May 16, 2011

Ruth Melton, Florida School Boards Association director of legislative relations, May 16, 2011

Phone interview with Jackie Johnson, PIO Alachua County School Board, May 10, 2011

Baker County medication administration policy (faxed)

Bay County School policy book, p. 745

Email interview with Pam Escobar, Brevard County Schools communications department, May 10, 2011

Phone interview with Marcia Bynoe, Browd County Schools director of health education services, May 10, 2011

Calhoun County School Board Policy, Ch. 5.62

Interview with Catherine Reckenwald, Citrus County School District student health specialist, May 12, 2011

Interview with Gail Buck, RN and supervisor of Charlotte County's school health services, May 10, 2011

Interview with Darlene Mahla, Clay County public relations department, May 10, 2011

Collier County School Board Administration Procedures, May 10, 2011

Phone interview with Kim Allison, Columbia County school health coordinator, May 10, 2011

Dixie County School Board policy on medications, p. 2

Duval County School Board policy, p. 56

Escambia County School Progression Plan, p. 28

Flagler County School Board policy, section 526

Franklin County Public Schools Policy Manual, section 5.62, p. 2

Gilchrist County Schools Student Handbook, p. 30

Glades County Schools Code of Conduct 2009-2010,

Gulf County School Health Administration Policy

Interview with Terry Cribbs, Central Hamilton Elementary school nurse, May 12, 2011

Interview with Hardee County Schools Superintendent David Durastanti, May 12, 2011

Hendry County School Board 2010-11 Student Code of Conduct, p. 18

Interview with Jim Knight, Hernando County School Board director of student services, May 12, 2011

Highlands County medication policy

Hillsborough County School Board policies

Holmes County Schools 2010-11 Code of Student Conduct, p. 10

Indian River County School Board Policies, p. 141

Jackson County School Board Policy Manual, Ch. 5.62

Jefferson County School Board Policies, Ch. 7.411

Interview with Debbie Land, Lafayette County School District director of instruction and personnel, May 16, 2011

Lake County School Policies, ch. 5

Lee County School Board Policies, 4.22

Leon County School Board Policies, 3.12

Levy County School Board Policies, p. 38

Liberty County School Board Policy Book, p. 236

Interview with Rosa Williams, Madison County Central School health support technician, May 12, 2011

Manatee County School District Code of Student Conduct, p. 24

Marion County School Board Policy, Ch. 5.62

Martin County School Board policy

Interview with Wilma Steiner, Miami-Dade County School Board director of comprehensive health services, May 13, 2011

Monroe County School Board policy

Nassau County School Board miscellaneous policy for students, p. 17

Okaloosa County School Board Policy Manual, Ch. 4, p. 33

Email interview with Joni Ard, Okeechobee County School Board director of student services, May 12, 2011

Orange County School Board policy on administering medicine

Palm Beach County School Board Policies, Ch. 5.321

Pasco County School Board policies, Ch. 5330

Email interview with Andrea Zahn, Pinellas County School Board spokeswoman, May 10, 2011

Polk County School Board medication administration policy

Putnam County School Board medication administration policy, p.3

St. Johns County School Board Rules

Interview with Janice Karst, St. Lucie County School Board director of communications, May 12, 2011

Sarasota County School Board policy, Ch. 5.62

Seminole County School Board policy, p. 271

Interview with Jean Holstein, Sumter County School District coordinator of student services and testing, May 12, 2011

Taylor County School Board Policy Handbook, Ch. 5.14

Union County School Board policies, 5.15

Interview with Kelly Kite, Union County High School nurse's assistant, May 12, 2011

Interview with Nancy Wait, Volusia County School District spokeswoman, May 12, 2011

Wakulla County School Board Policies, Ch. 5.62

Walton County School Board Policies, Ch. 5.62

Washington County School Board Policy, Ch. 5, p. 63

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