After a school sunscreen ban left two Tacoma, Washington, elementary students severely burned, their mother is taking on the school district.
Jesse Michener's daughters Violet, 11, and Zoe, 9, set out from their home Tuesday, June 19, for an all-day school event. The morning had been a rainy one but by noon the rain gave way to sun, and the girls began to burn. Violet and Zoe were not allowed to apply sunscreen due to a school policy against it, even though Zoe suffers from a form of albinism, a genetic condition that makes her particularly sun-sensitive.
“I was feeling all hot," Zoe Michener told TODAY. "I noticed that my shoulders were really more warmer than other parts of my body.” Her sister Violet also began to feel the heat: “I was playing games with my friends and that's when I basically started feeling like I was burning up.”
Their mother said seeing her girls walk through the door was a moment she'll never forget. “It was horrifying to see (Violet’s) bright red face. There were welts, she was swollen and then I saw Zoe's shoulders. It was absolutely painful and gut-wrenching to look at. I was horrified.” The burns were so severe, Michener whisked her daughters to the local hospital for examinations.
When Michener pressed school officials on the ban, they told her that there is a state-wide policy that does not allow staff to apply sunscreen to students, and students can only apply it themselves if they have a doctor’s note. The law exists because the additives in lotions and sunscreens can cause an allergic reaction in children, and sunscreens are regulated by the FDA as an over-the-counter drug. Michener discovered that the policy exists in 49 states nationwide; California is the only state to allow sunscreen in school without a doctor’s note.
“I did share with the principal that any policy that didn't allow her to use common sense was something that I had to do something about," Michener said. "She nodded and shook her head.”
Michener was so upset she wrote about the incident in her blog, sparking a national conversation. "We have learned that it's important to stand up for what you believe in," Michener said. "This has always been about making sense of a policy that doesn't make sense and trying to change it.”
Her activism has sparked results. The school district has since apologized, and said a new law allows more leeway for districts to decide what is and isn’t allowed when it comes to applying sunscreen at school. The policy will be revised by October, the district said.