Some schools let kids with live head lice stay; policy change has some Kentucky parents scratching their heads

By Molly Burchett
Kentucky Health News

School districts across the country are adopting policies that say students diagnosed with live head lice or nits (louse eggs) can remain in school and parents don't need to be alerted when their child comes in contact with lice. Others schools say they will keep strict lice policies and will continue to alert parents about lice infestations. What's the policy at your child's school?

The American Pediatric Association, the Harvard School of Public Health and the National Association of School Nurses recommend that schools discontinue "no-nits" policies, taking the position that students should not be excluded from school due to suspected head lice or due to nits only. The Kentucky Department of Education and the Kentucky School Board Association also support this recommendation.

The organizations say "no-nit" policies that require a child to be free of nits before they can return to schools should be discontinued because nits are very unlikely to hatch and become crawling lice, nits are cemented to hair shafts and are unlikely to be transferred to another person, and the burden of absenteeism to the students and communities isn't doesn't outweigh the risks of head lice.

This policy shift is designed to help keep children from missing class and to shield children with lice from embarrassment, but these more lenient policies are bugging some parents, reports Jennifer Kerr of The Associated Press.

One school in Paducah says its strict policy about alerting parents if their child gets lice won't change anytime soon, reports Mychaela Brunen of WPSD-TV.

Vicki Brantner has been a school nurse at McNabb Elementary School in Paducah for six years and says the school's strict lice policy is here to stay. "When we have somebody that has head lice, we have a step-by-step procedure that we give to them to take home, it's not only washing the hair, but you have to clean your environment," Brantner told Brunen.

"We have a no-nit policy which means not only can they be here if they have the actual bug, but all the eggs removed also," said Brantner. She said parents with elementary school-aged kids should check their child's hair for lice once a week.

Marcey Davis, a mother of five, said she appreciates getting notices about lice infestations from McNabb Elementary. "It keeps me informed as a parent, as to what's going on in their classrooms and the school," she told Buren. "Parents need to stay on top of in order to keep a lice-free school, at the risk of embarrassing my child, I would rather know about it."

The head louse is a parasitic insect that can be found on the head, eyebrows, and eyelashes of people, and the CDC estimates that 6 million to 12 million infestations occur each year between schoolchildren between the ages of 3 and 11. It is much more common for schoolchildren to get lice because schools bring large numbers of children together where they are in close contact with each other, reports Mike Potter of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

Here are some tips from the CDC that can be used to prevent and control the spread of lice:
  • Avoid head-to-head (hair-to-hair) contact during play and other activities at home, school, and elsewhere (sports activities, playground, slumber parties, camp). 
  • Do not share clothing such as hats, scarves, coats, sports uniforms, hair ribbons, or barrettes.
  • Do not share combs, brushes, or towels. Disinfest combs and brushes used by an infested person by soaking them in hot water (at least 130°F) for 5–10 minutes. 
  • Do not lie on beds, couches, pillows, carpets, or stuffed animals that have recently been in contact with an infested person.
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