Administering Medicine

AuthorJeffrey Wilson

Page 561


Administering medicine to children and adolescents while on the premises of local schools is an inescapable reality for contemporary educators. The increasing incidence of students needing to take medicine during the course of a school day has forced school systems (and some state legislatures) to enact and implement regulations and policies addressing the matter.

A professional research study published in the November 2000 issue of Journal of School Health, based on a random sample of 1000 members of the National Association of School Nurses (with 65 percent responding), reported that during a typical school day, 5.6 percent of children receive medication in school. The most reported medications administered within school settings were (in descending order) ADHD medications (for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders); nonprescription medications; asthma medications; analgesics, and anti-seizure medications. Also common were antibiotics and vitamins.

Seriously ill and/or heavily medicated students are rarely allowed to attend classes, so the issues do not center on them. But for those children who are only marginally ill or disabled, the issue pits educational systems against society at large. Schools must consider safeguarding other children and staff from contagious disease, the prevention of disruption in the classroom by students exhibiting symptoms of illness, the control of cross-medicating (the sharing or selling of medication between classmates); and the potential for self-medication abuse while on school premises. On the other side of the issue, the social realities of the increasing number of households with two working parents (or single working parent households), coupled with employment that does not allow for "sick day" benefits to attend to children's illnesses, often results in sick children being sent to school, with or without medication to take.

Seventy-five percent of reporting nurses in the 2000 study delegated medication administration to unlicensed assistive personnel (UAPs), with secretaries (66 percent) being the most common. Errors in administering medications were reported by nearly 50 percent of the school nurses, the most common error being missed doses (79 percent). Errors were commonly reported to local school and/or state authorities.

Faced with the growing problem of exposure to liability in conjunction with the administration of medicine (and in many circumstances, the administration of controlled substances), schools have mobilized over the years and demanded both guidance and protection from liability by state legislatures. Not all states have addressed the issue at the state level, and persons needing information are best advised to start with their local school districts.

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General Policy Overview

As of 2001, no national laws or regulations govern school administration of medication. However, national guidelines available for local adoption were published at least as early as 1990.

Guidelines may be found at either state or local levels. Most local policies are developed by school boards, superintendents, individuals, and other school personnel, in collaboration with local physician or medical advisory committees. When individuals searching for applicable policies or regulations, they should always start at the local level and work up.

According to a 2001 U.S. Congressional Subcommittee report, a total of 37 states and the District of Columbia have statutes, regulations, and/or mandatory policies addressing medication administration at schools.

Many states have sovereign immunity laws that shield public employees, including school personnel and nurses, etc., from liability for negligence. Local procedures and policies generally require parents' signatures to release school districts and employees from liability.

Many state and local policies permit "delegation" of medication administration (usually restricted to licensed nurses) to trained but unlicensed assistive personnel (UAPs) within school settings. They may be school principals, teachers, secretaries, or administrative assistants within the health services office., school principals, or teachers. Certain duties cannot be delegated, such as secured storage of controlled substances.

Self-administration policies vary greatly from state to state and within school districts. Many require student assessment for age and maturity; others simply require authorizations from prescribers and parents. Almost all include signed releases of liability.

States may require compulsory medication, in the form of immunizations/vaccinations of school children, as prerequisites to school attendance. As of 2000, 23 states had passed immunization requirements for hepatitis B vaccinations. Many had additional requirements for measles, varicella, tetanus, and diphtheria. Schools may offer free or low-cost immunizations to students in conjunction with these requirements.


Federal law mandates that children with health needs receive school health services, e.g., the Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (P.L. 94-142); Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (P.L. 93-112). But federal law does not specifically address the administering of medicine at the individual school level. Administering medicine entails physically providing it to the ultimate user, the patient.

Federal laws and regulations that do not expressly address, but, nonetheless impact, the administration of medication...

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