Kennewick overreaching with ban on hand sanitizer

September 18, 2012 

Taking hand sanitizer out of Kennewick schools seems like an odd move.

Sure, we all know that hand washing is the best way to clean grubby little fingers and to help prevent the spread of germs. But hand sanitizer is an accepted and recommended alternative when a good hand-washing isn't available or feasible.

Doctors' offices often have hand sanitizer sitting at the reception desk, as do many other places during cold and flu season.

But Kennewick has decided hand sanitizers just don't have a place in the classroom. The school doesn't provide the cleanser, but parents and teachers often provide bottles for the kids to use. Those now will be removed or sent home because the district has deemed them a potential risk and a possible deterrent to hand washing.

So now teachers will have to line up kids to wash their hands whenever necessary. We're thinking it could take a while to have a whole classroom of young students wash their hands every time it's needed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has this recommendation for washing hands:

w Wet your hands with clean running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.

w Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.

w Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the Happy Birthday song from beginning to end twice.

w Rinse your hands well under running water.

w Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.

We estimate the total time per student to go through that process is about one minute. If there are 25 kids in a classroom who need to wash their hands in one sink, that's 25 minutes of class time. And that seems silly.

By the time all the kids in class are done washing their hands, the first ones through the line probably will be dirty enough to need it again.

Yes, there are times when hand washing is the only acceptable answer. But have you ever seen kids wash their hands? Health departments often do demonstrations with a black light to show the germs and dirt left behind after a solid attempt at hand washing. Even an adult would have a difficult time passing the black-light test.

So hand sanitizer has become a stop-gap measure, recommended by the CDC in the absence of soap and water.

Much has been made of the safety of having alcohol-based sanitizers -- the most effective -- used around children. True, some kids have used the gels to start fires and others have used them to get drunk. But kids intent on bad behavior always will find a way to use products intended for helpful purposes for bad ones instead.

Some teachers already dispense sanitizer one squirt at a time to prevent waste and other problems. That's a workable solution to the Kennewick's concerns that stops short of an outright ban.

Other area schools aren't concerned about hand sanitizers. In fact, Pasco and Richland schools even provide it for their classrooms.

Kennewick seems to be over-reacting and removing an item that could help fill in the gaps when kids can't or don't wash their hands.

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