Schools relax restrictions on head lice, parents bugged

Schools relax restrictions on head lice, parents bugged
Head lice
(Courtesy WebMD)

How much is little Johnny’s privacy or easily bruised feelings worth to the parents of his classmates? Let’s put that question in a narrower context. Suppose you’re the mom or dad of one of Johnny’s classmates and discover that the little bugger has head lice. Are you OK with the school keeping the problem under its hat in order to spare the child embarrassment or to guard his privacy?

Some schools have answered that question for parents — and the answer is yes. According to the Associated Press, via the Wenatchee (Wash.) World (h/t reader Steven Ein), there is a growing trend among schools toward less restrictive head lice policies that allow children with live bugs in their hair to return to the classroom. In addition:

[S]ome school nurses are no longer sending home the dreaded ‘lice note’ to other parents … alerting them to the possibility of lice in their own child’s precious locks. The policy shift is designed to help keep children from missing class, shield children with lice from embarrassment and protect their privacy.

Enabling children to avoid missing schoolwork is a laudable goal, but even that noble objective is trumped by the cost in time and money to families whose children bring head lice home from school.

Deborah Pontius, the nurse for the Pershing County School District in Lovelock, Nev., sees lice differently. She claims that by the time a child with head lice is sent to her office, the entire class has already been exposed. “Lice is icky,” Pontius is quoted as saying, using complex medical terminology, “but it’s not dangerous. It’s not infectious, and it’s fairly easy to treat.”

But the National Pediculosis Association believes that the relaxed standards are — dare it be said? — wrongheaded. Deborah Altschuler, head of the group, based in Newton, Mass., is quoted as saying:

The new lice policy throws parental values for wellness and children’s health under the bus. It fosters complacency about head lice by minimizing its importance as a communicable parasitic disease.

Parents of students at schools that have implemented the new policy are not accepting the decision lying down. One of them, Theresa Rice, says, “I’m appalled. I am just so disgusted.” Since the start of the school year in August, Rice’s 8-year-old daughter, Jenna, has come home from her school in Hamilton County, Tenn., with lice three times. Rice notes:

It’s just a terrible headache to have to deal with lice. To pick out the tiny eggs, or nits, and lice from Jenna’s long blond hair is a four-hour process. Add to that all the laundry and cleaning — it’s exhausting.

Rice was also forced to seal her daughter’s beloved stuffed animals off in plastic bags for weeks after Jenna was lice-free to protect the child from recurrences. So much for hurting the feelings of innocent children.

Other schools, in California, Florida, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Carolina, and elsewhere, have adopted similar policies. The approach is in keeping with the guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which in 2010 changed its policy on head lice prevention, recommending that infested students be permitted to remain in class but be discouraged from direct head contact with others.

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Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy has written for The Blaze, HotAir, NewsBusters, Weasel Zippers, Conservative Firing Line, RedCounty, and New York’s Daily News. He has one published novel, Hot Rain, (G. P. Putnam’s Sons), and has been a guest on Radio Vice Online with Jim Vicevich, The Alana Burke Show, Smart Life with Dr. Gina, and The George Espenlaub Show.

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