When children attend public schools there is much discussion about how to handle the problem of lice or nits found on a student. For decades school policies have included a “no nit” rule that requires children to be picked up from school and not allowed to return until clearance is given from the school nurse or other trained personnel that no nits, or lice eggs are present. Even if no living lice are on the head. In recent years this common practice has come under scrutiny from many who see that children being forced out of school, sometimes for several weeks, can be doing more harm than good.
One recent example of this is a fifth grade student from Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Duval County, Florida. Maddie Hunter was sent home for having lice. After three weeks of receiving all types of over the counter treatment from her mother at home, Maddie was still turned away every morning for a nit or two in her hair. Even when no live lice were found.
Finally Maddie’s mother was contacted by the local Fox 30 news in Florida and her situation was brought to the public’s attention.
“I really need help with reading,” Maddie told Fox 30 News. “I’ve been struggling in reading and I can’t do that because of missing so much school.”
She also missed three full weeks of choir, drama and other vital class time. Many parents and professionals argue that this does not have to be the case. Live lice are highly contagious and pose a contagious factor to other students. However, when only one or two nits are being found on a child’s scalp the risk of infection being spread to others is incredibly low. Commonly, remnants left after a child has been treated are actually casings, or nits that have previously hatched that remain on hair strands. Therefore, they pose absolutely no risk for reinfection or transferring lice to someone else.
The State of Kentucky has decided to leave it up to the local schools to proceed how they deem necessary. The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services has stated, “It grants discretion to each school district to develop a policy that meets their community values. They may or may not decide to have “no nit” policies.”
In favor of a change both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Nurses advocate that “no nit” policies should be considered outdated and abolished. They publicly argue head lice are not a health hazard or a sign of poor hygiene and are not responsible for the spread of any disease. They state that no otherwise healthy child should be kept from attending school due to nits.
Be sure to do your own head lice checks for any children who are attending public schools, day cares, preschools or other activities where they are surrounded by other children. Being vigilant about catching the problem early on is your best defense against the spread of lice in your own home. School systems may do their best to prevent an outbreak, but the keen eye of a parent is a powerful tool in preventing the infection of others. Lice Clinics of America, Lexington offer head lice checks to entire families if you are concerned or unsure what to look for.