How schools handle head lice

How schools handle head lice

DELTA, MO (KFVS) - Head lice in schools isn't new. But the way it's handled has changed and has some parents itching for answers.

One local school is seeing the first outbreak of the season and some parents said they had to hear about it through the grapevine.

Several Delta Elementary parents took to social media on Wednesday to express their concerns after they said the school failed to notify them about cases of head lice.

None of them wanted to speak on the record.

So we went to a public health official who says this time of year lice is more prevalent, but it's a common problem year round.

And she has one important word of advice to keep it from spreading.

It goes against the grain according to what most parents preach, but this one time health officials said,"Don't share."

"But the most important thing during this time is to talk to your kids not to share the combs, the brushes, the hats, the scarves," said Cape County Health Department Immunization Coordinator Sandy Gibbons. "I know we tell them to share but this is one thing we don't want them to share."

The problem is head lice is so easily shared.

"And it is more common than people think, it really is," said Gibbons.

Especially during cold months when kids are bundled in coats and hats as they head off to school.

All it takes is an exchange of those hats and the lice spreads.

Once it's brought home, it can take days, even weeks, to completely kill.

"They don't jump. It has to have that direct contact but it can get on a couch, a mattress, or something and then that person lay right there and go right into the next persons hair," said Gibbons.

Head lice policies at schools have changed quite a bit over the past 10 years or so.

There's no statewide policy, so each district decides how they handle these cases.

You rarely see school wide head checks or notifications sent home. Now schools focus on the anonymity of each case and helping individual families deal with the problem.

"The schools are really limited in what they can do because whether they have a policy, a no-nit policy or they don't, they're really limited in what they can do because they can't single out these kids," said Gibbons.

We spoke with several local school districts. Most do follow a "no-nit policy" meaning any child with lice or nits is not allowed back in school until the lice is completely gone.

But to protect the identity of students with head lice, most schools do not notify other parents unless several cases are reported.

And even then, they try to only notify those most directly affected, such as a single class or grade.

Health departments can do head checks and offer information on how to prevent and treat head lice.

We were told Delta school officials did send out a letter to parents on Wednesday afternoon detailing ways to check for and treat lice.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that both the American Association of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Nurses advocate that  "no-nit" policies be discontinued.

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