Schools Are Doing Less Nitpicking Over Head Lice

Filed under: News, In The News, Weird But True, Health & Safety: Big Kids, Expert Advice: Health, New In Pop Culture

head lice shampoo picture

Hey, parents -- your child with lice doesn't have to stay home! Um, sorry, teachers. Credit: Sharon Gekoski-Kimmel/Philadelphia Inquirer/MCT

We all dread that phone call from school -- you know, the one telling you your kid's hair is infested with head lice. The only thing worse? When we actually catch the nasty little buggers from our kids.

But as disgusting as a case of lice is, it's no longer a reason to keep your child out of school, as it was for years. As a result of new guidelines issued this summer by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), many schools are changing their policies, and the issue has now become a problem teachers have to deal with.

In its updated recommendation, the AAP says head lice is not a health hazard or a sign of poor hygiene and, unlike body lice, it's not responsible for the spread of any disease.

"Head lice actually crawl, they don't jump or fly, and so they're only contagious with direct head-to-head contact, where they crawl from head to head," Dr. Barbara Frankowski tells HealthRadio.

As a result, the AAP advises that "no-nit" policies, which keep kids out of school until all nits, or eggs, are gone, are detrimental to a child's education, and should therefore be reversed.

In Omaha, Neb., where some schools have already reversed their "no nit" policies, one teacher says head lice is such a problem in her classroom that she doesn't want to interact with her kids as she normally would. She says other teachers feel the same way, according to WOWT's Channel Six News.

Sharon Wade, supervisor of health services for Omaha Public Schools (OPS), tells the news outlet that the new policy makes sense, since head lice can fester in a child's hair for weeks before it starts itching. So, she says, there's no reason for children to stay home from school for an extended period of time.

"If a child is identified with head lice they are allowed to stay until the end of the school day and then the parent is contacted and we insist on immediate treatment for them to return to school," Wade says.

OPS Spokeswoman Luanne Nelson tells Channel Six this time of year is tough, as schools seem to face the issue of head lice as soon as the weather starts getting cooler.

"Every principal in the district who's been affected by this has tried to work with our health department to alleviate it," she says.

Molly Erickson, president of the Millard Education Association, tells the news outlet she can see how the new policy can be a problem.

"I could see how there could be some concern if kids are coming to school infected, if it disrupts learning ... It disrupts the flow of the classroom if the teacher's nervous," she says.

For teachers who are working with students with active head lice infestations, Erickson says going to the principal is completely appropriate.

Despite the new policy, Wade says some children in the district are sent home -- but only if it affects their ability to focus on schoolwork.

"If a child would be extremely uncomfortable, we don't want them to have to stay in the classroom and be subjected to that," Wade says.

Frankowski advises that you don't want to tell your child to stay away from people.

"I always think of head lice as being sort of a normal risk of being a healthy, active, social child," she tells HealthRadio. "Your child's going to come into contact with other kids, and some of those kids may have head lice, and your child might get it -- just like your child could get a cold, or if you have an active child that might fall and scrape their knee -- all those are normal risks of being a child."

Policy or no policy, common sense plays a big role in the equation, Channel Six reports. If a child is infested with head lice, and home treatments aren't curing the problem, it's time to see your child's pediatrician.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.