Q: WHY THE CHANGE IN POLICY?
A: Itchy children probably had lice for three weeks to two months by the time they’re sent to the nurse, Pontius says.
Classmates already would have been exposed. There’s little additional risk of transmission, she says, 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 also doesn’t send lice notes. “It gets out who had lice,” she says, 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.
Q: WHAT DO THE EXPERTS SAY?
A: The American Academy of Pediatrics updated its guidelines in 2010 to adopt a “do not exclude” infested students recommendation for schools dealing with head lice. It has long encouraged schools to discontinue “no-nit” policies. The itty-bitty nits — which can often be confused with dandruff — cement themselves to the hair shaft, making removal difficult.
The National Association of School Nurses revised its position the following year. In its guidance, the association said children found with live head lice should remain in class but be discouraged from close direct head contact with others and said the school nurse should contact the parent to discuss treatment.
The association doesn’t have figures on how many schools have adopted less restrictive policies. Policies vary by state and often by school district.
Q: HOW DO PARENTS FEEL?
A: Letting kids with untreated lice remain in class doesn’t sit well with some parents.
“I’m appalled. I am just so disgusted,” says Theresa Rice, whose 8-year-old daughter, Jenna, has come home from her Hamilton County, Tenn., school with lice three times since August.