In the United States, schools battling a perennial foe — head lice — have decided to allow children with lice in their hair to return to the classroom. Some schools have stopped also sending lice notes to other parents with kids in the classroom to alert them about the possibility of lice in their own child’s hair.
The new policy shift is designed to help keep children from missing class, to shield children with lice from embarrassment and to protect their privacy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that an estimated 6 million to 12 million head lice infestation occur each year in the U.S. among children 3 to 11 years of age, CBS News reports.
Deborah Pontius, the school nurse for the Pershing County School District in Lovelock, Nevada, said that lice is not dangerous, but it is unsettling. “It’s not infectious, and it’s fairly easy to treat.”
Close person-to-person contact can result in head lice infestation. Most often they are spread through direct head-to-head contact but infrequently, they may be spread by contact with clothing including hats, scarves and coats, or other personal items like combs, brushes, or towels.
By the time an itchy child is sent to the nurse, he or she has probably had lice for about three weeks to two months, Pontius said, adding that classmates already would have been exposed. According to Pontius, there is little additional risk of transmission if the student returns to class for a few hours until the end of the day, when a parent would pick up the child and treat for lice at home.
Pontius said she doesn’t send lice notes. “It gets out who had lice,” she said, and there’s no need to panic parents. Parents with elementary school-aged kids should check their children’s hair for lice once a week anyway, she says. If they are doing that, then there’s really no need for the notes.
Some parents, however, are not happy with new policies of letting kids with untreated lice remain in class.
“I’m appalled. I am just so disgusted,” said Theresa Rice, whose 8-year-old daughter, Jenna, has come home from her elementary school in Hamilton County, Tenn., with lice three times since school started in August.
In the past year, Rice’s daughter’s school implemented a new policy that allows children with untreated lice to go home at the end of the day, be treated and then return to school. The policy complies with the guidelines of both the Tennessee Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In California, Florida, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Carolina and elsewhere, other schools have similar policies. The National Pediculosis Association in Massachusetts is opposed to relaxing bans on lice and blames the updated policies for spreading the bugs.
“The new lice policy throws parental values for wellness and children’s health under the bus,” said Deborah Altschuler, head of the Newton-based group. “It fosters complacency about head lice by minimizing its importance as a communicable parasitic disease.”
According to the association, lice treatment shampoos are pesticides that are not safe for children and not 100% effective. Super lice, which are growing in local schools in Pittsburgh, resist treatments to over-the-counter medicated shampoos, and require a stronger prescription medication that may have stronger odors or can be flammable.
The association recommends that parents screen regularly and use a special comb to manually remove lice and nits from a child’s hair.