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School Medication Administration

How to Make It Work for You and Your Child

By PaulaHOST

Updated June 27, 2014

If you're worried about the medical care your child receives while at school, you have good reason to be concerned: a large survey of school nurses showed that nearly half of them reported medication errors in their schools during the previous year.

For children who regularly need to take medication, this can be a particularly alarming figure. How do you keep your kids safe?

First, let's look at some of the survey findings in depth, which shed light on the types of errors school nurses admitted to making:

  • The nurses estimated that an average of 5.6 percent of students in grades kindergarten through 12 receive medications on a typical school day. Common medications dispensed include over-the-counter remedies, analgesics such as aspirin and ibuprofen, stimulant medications for attentional disorders such as Ritalin and Adderall, asthma inhalers and drugs, and anti-seizure medications commonly used to treat epilepsy and bipolar disorder.

  • Errors included giving an overdose or double dose (22.9%), giving medicines without authorization (20.6%), giving the wrong medicine (20%) or unspecified mistakes (29.8%).

  • A major factor in medication errors was the use of "unlicensed assistive personnel" such as school secretaries, health aides, teachers, parents, and even students, to administer medications. Only 25 percent of the nurses said they administered all the medication in their schools. The other 75 percent said that unlicensed personnel dispense medications to students.

  • Three-quarters of the schools where unlicensed personnel dispense drugs have training programs for those persons, but in most cases the training is two hours or less in length. And the survey reported that those unlicensed personnel were three times more likely to make medication errors.

How Can You Ensure that No Mistakes Are Made With Your Child?

There is only one federal mandate regarding medications at school. Under section 504 of the federal law -- the Americans with Disabilities Act -- schools are required to provide for the health needs of children with chronic health problems. The school must provide whatever health assistance is needed to meet the needs of a disabled child - including, and not limited to, the dispensing of medications.

Guidelines regarding medication dispensing are set at the state level. Every school sets its own guidelines regarding medications based on state laws - and those laws vary widely from state to state.

As a parent, it is your right to know what your school policy is on medication dispensing and to have those guidelines in writing. In most school districts, the school board, in consultation with its nursing staff, has the responsibility for establishing a safe and secure system for control and delivery of medications.

Written guidelines on the medication dispensing policies for your district should be available through your school superintendent's office. Obtain a copy of the policies and keep it on file for reference. If you have a child with an IEP or 504, keep this document stored with your current paperwork in case questions arise during planning meetings.

Schools sometimes falsely tell parents who do not know their rights or the rights of their disabled child that they [the parents] have the responsibility for coming to school and providing the services. If you are told by your school district that you must come to school and administer healthcare or medications to your child during the school day, your school is in serious violation of federal law and they could easily lose their federal funding.

How to Make it Work for You and Your Child

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Nurses recommend that you follow these steps to ensure that your child is medicated properly at school:
  • If you have a special needs child and he/she has an IEP but not a 504, call a meeting immediately or contact the school social worker and apply for a 504. It's a necessity for children who require healthcare and/or medications at school.

  • Be certain that your child knows what the medication looks like and how much and how often it should be given. Work with your child until he/she is able to make the distinction. Doing this will help your child know if he or she is getting the wrong medication or incorrect dosage at school.

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