Head Lice, known medically as Pediculosis, are small, wingless parasites that affect up to 12 million children in the United States each year. They are not defined as a health risk by the medical community and therefore head lice policies across the nation are changing.
It used to be that a child with head lice or their eggs (known as nits) would be sent home from school immediately and not be allowed to return until they were gone. A letter would go home with students warning that lice had been found in the classroom with instructions to thoroughly check your child’s head for nits or lice because the policy stated a child with head lice would not be allowed to attend school.
The reasoning behind this policy was twofold – 1). They are extremely contagious and 2). A diagnosis represents an enormous amount of work for the parents. Children are constantly in contact with one another therefore these annoying biters spread through classrooms like wildfire. If your child is diagnosed, monumental tasks loom that must be addressed immediately or they will spread throughout your entire family. All linens must be laundered in the hottest settings possible and kept separated from all other linens until they too are freshly cleaned. The child in question must be treated – as soon as possible – with dreadful chemical shampoos. Then the worst part of all – each strand on the child’s head must be inspected and combed through to remove all nits. Multiple kids mean you must repeat the steps multiple times. Regardless of health risk, this is a busy parent’s nightmare and the argument is knowledge of the presence can help prevent infestations.
Standard policies adopted in many school districts now state that a student with evidence of lice has a letter sent home requesting that treatment be performed. That is it. No child is removed from the classroom, no other parents are notified, and the presence of nits or live lice is kept quiet so as not to ‘shame’ the student or risk him or her missing any education.
Policies are now based on information from professionals who state that head lice do not represent any health risk. But concerned parents argue that infestations will be more prevalent with no checks and balances in place to prevent the spread. Since many over-the-counter treatments are losing effectiveness, only time will tell if these new policies will be adequate.