A head lice policy that isn’t a nuisance
As I’ve written before (George Bush: Louse Enabler?), schools tend to go overboard on their head lice policies, enforcing strict “no nit” rules that don’t make a lot of sense. So I was happy when I found the following announcement from a local school. It seems like a very sane way to go:
Why are there so many cases of lice this year?
We had heard reports that summer camps were over-run with cases of lice this summer, so we anticipated that we might experience more problems than usual at the start of the school year. That is why we reminded parents about checking heads carefully before school began (in the August packet) and why we remind parents to continue to do so every week in the newsletter.
To put things in perspective, we have experienced less than ten cases of lice in the entire school so far this year.
Why don’t we do school-wide head checks like some other schools do?
Experience has taught us that conducting school-wide head checks is not only disruptive to teachers and students and very time-consuming, but also that it rarely yields any cases of lice. At home, parents can do a much more thorough exam of their own children on a regular basis. That is why we ask you to take that responsibility.
Neither the American Academy of Pediatrics nor the National Association of School Nurses is in favor of group screenings. Both research and anecdotal reports have indicated that the excessive amount of time it takes to conduct group screenings is not productive.
Why does our school have a “modified no-nit policy”?
We modified our policy several years ago to keep in line with the most recent research concerning head lice management, and we follow recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Nurses.
According to Richard J. Pollack, PhD, of Harvard School of Public Health, “No child should lose even an hour of school because of head lice. By the time you find head lice, that child has likely been infested for a month or more.” Therefore, we have chosen to have a different policy than the policies still in place in some other schools and school systems. Our policy reflects good, current clinical practice. We have an excellent, ongoing relationship with the local Department of Public Health, our nursing and medical liaisons there are fully supportive of how we handle head lice.
Here is what our experience has been:
- In the several years since we modified our policy, we have actually experienced a decrease in the numbers of children who develop head lice after cases are diagnosed and appropriate management begun.
- Most cases of head lice in our school have been discovered by parents when the child is at home. This year, only one of the cases of head lice was diagnosed by the nurses while the child was in school, and that child’s parents chose to take the child home early.
- In every instance where the nurses have checked children’s heads in a classroom because a case of lice has been reported, no other cases have been detected from that check. That is a common reported experience from schools across the country. It bolsters the fact that head lice are less communicable than people realize. Remember, lice cannot jump or fly: they are communicated by very close contact with somebody who has the problem.
Therefore, educating students about measures to avoid the problem, such as wearing hair tied back, not sharing hats or other hair implements, and not putting heads together, is a much more effective tool than excluding children from the classroom. We also take institutional measures, such as careful vacuuming, putting away dress-up clothes, etc, when indicated. We suggest that parents reconsider having sleepovers when there are reported cases of lice in their child’â€™s grade.
- Once a child is diagnosed with head lice, we work closely with parents to help manage the case effectively. We check affected children when indicated and check in with parents to see if they need further advice and support. Since having head lice in the family is never a pleasant experience, we know that parents whose children have lice do everything in their power (following our instructions and those of their pediatricians) to take care of the problem.
We hope that this information helps parents to put the lice situation in perspective.