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Medication at School

One important part of student health is managing medication during school hours. Public schools follow rules from the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services. This helps keep students safe and healthy. Giving a student medication at school is not always as simple as sending pills to the school nurse. There are many issues surrounding what meds a school can administer to students. For instance:

  • What happens if a child requires ongoing prescription medication?
  • What if they need it repeatedly throughout the school day?
  • What kind of documentation, diagnoses, or prescriptions does a student need?
  • Does a school have the authority to administer the drug at school?
  • What about if a student gets hurt at school and requires immediate medical care in an emergency?
  • Can a teacher administer pain medication?

This section provides background information on medical administration.

Background: Medication Administration

School personnel, often a registered nurse, are responsible for giving medication to students. School employees must follow a medication order. These are usually from a licensed health care provider. These providers are usually a physician or a physician assistant. These orders include prescription drugs and over-the-counter (nonprescription) medication. All medicines must be in their original container and labeled with the student's name.

For children in lower grades, this falls under the realm of pediatrics. School nurses and other school health professionals go through special training. They get training to administer medication to younger children. They are also aware of the unique challenges this poses. A pediatric approach is essential. It helps ensure younger students also enjoy health services in the school setting.

Each state has provided some process for allowing school officials to administer medications. Some states permit school officials to regulate dosage. Others need state-licensed nurses to do so. In these states, the parent must come to the school if a nurse is not present to administer the medication. They must come to the school to medicate their child. Because of this problem, some states changed their rules. They allowed nonlicensed officials to administer medication. They must go through special training. This helps them learn how to administer medication effectively.

Parent/guardian involvement is crucial when it comes to medication. The school needs written consent before giving any new medication to a child. This consent should be from a parent/guardian. The school also expects parents to keep them updated on their child's medical needs. Parents should also inform them of any changes in medication. Communication between school health services and parents helps avoid medication errors. It helps ensure the students' well-being.

Self-Administration of Medication: Common Provisions

Some students can self-administer medication. For instance, students can take asthma medication or epinephrine auto-injectors (EpiPens) for anaphylaxis. The student's parents and health care provider must give permission for this. Schools have certain relevant district policies. These policies tell staff members how to check if a student can self-administer medication safely. Sometimes, a student needs to self-administer their medications during a field trip. They may need to during a special education program. If so, the school is to make plans for this self-administration.

Some students have dietary supplements or special foods for their health. Like regular medications, these supplements also need a medication order. This order should be from a licensed physician. Parents and school staff should work together to meet the student's needs. Prescribing dietary supplements follows the same rigorous process as other medications. This helps to ensure competency and safety for the students.

Federal law is silent on the issue of the medication of school children. Laws like the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act and the Rehabilitation Act are relevant. These laws require reasonable accommodations for individual students. These students may have medical conditions. Still, the law doesn't mention the self-administration of medicine.

States have taken various positions regarding the self-medication of students. Many have published guidelines setting certain policies. For example, they might specifically permit asthmatic students to carry an inhaler. Yet, even when these policies exist, they might not address self-administered medication. Often, local school districts will set policies about the self-administration of medications.

School Vaccinations

Vaccinations are a big part of student health. Public schools require immunizations before the start of the school year. The Department of Health works with schools to ensure all students have the necessary shots. Some students may have special needs that make vaccinations impossible. State law has rules about these students.

Vaccinations are an area of controversy. Some parents are reluctant to have their children vaccinated for many reasons. Specific vaccination requirements vary by state. Still, most states require that young students have proof of vaccination. This includes vaccinations for polio, hepatitis, varicella, and diphtheria. It also might include tetanus, acellular, pertussis, measles, mumps, and rubella. Children age 11 or older and entering the sixth grade must have proof they received these vaccinations. They might also be required to get a vaccination for meningitis.

Some states have permitted exemptions for children. This might be based on medical, religious, and philosophical reasons. Some states have passed legislation eliminating these exemptions out of concern that reduced vaccination rates have created new risks of illnesses. These illnesses were considered effectively eliminated for the past several generations.

Controlled Substances

School policy often has specific written policies about controlled substances. These are medications that have more restrictions because they can be misused. Controlled substances usually need stricter oversight from school personnel. They are often stored in a secure part of the school building. Both prescribing and storing these medications must follow guidelines set by the Department of Health and other agencies.

It's critical to keep an accurate medication record for these substances. These records track administration and avoid potential abuse. Furthermore, parents are usually required to deliver these medications directly to the appropriate school staff or school administrators. This is instead of allowing the student to carry them. This helps to ensure proper handling and administration of the medication.

Emergency Medications and Procedures

In emergency situations, quick access to certain medications can be a lifesaver. Emergency medications are often available in a school setting. This includes medications like epinephrine auto-injectors (EpiPens) and glucagon for diabetic emergencies. School health services train staff in the proper use of these injectable medicines.

The goal is to provide emergency care quickly and effectively. This helps to stabilize the student until more specialized help arrives. To achieve this, schools may conduct drills and simulations. These help prepare staff for emergency situations. Additionally, emergency medications are usually stored in easily accessible locations. These locations are within the school building and follow safety guidelines.

Getting Legal Help With Medication Issues at School

If there are issues with a child's medication at school, like medication errors or side effects, parents can get legal help. Education agencies have guidelines about how to solve issues with medication and student health. Parents should also keep a medication record and talk to a health care professional about concerns. The end of the school year is a good time to review all health records and prepare for the next year.

A legal professional can help you if you have a legal issue. They can help you navigate your or your child's school policies. They can also help you understand state law and federal law relevant to your case.

Speak to an experienced education attorney about your potential legal issue.

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