Schools weigh policy
Sentinel Staff Writer
September 23, 2002
decades, school nurses across the country have picked through the scalps of
countless students in search of head lice and their sticky little eggs, called
youngsters have been ushered out the door, banned from their classrooms until
treatment and subsequent searches deemed them free of the crawling critters and
their would-be offspring.
American Academy of Pediatrics says millions of students have missed days of
class unnecessarily and is recommending that the nation's school districts
backing off of their "no nit" policies.
healthy child should be excluded from or allowed to miss school because of head
lice," the AAP said. "Although not painful or a serious health hazard, head lice
are the cause of much embarrassment and misunderstanding, many unnecessary days
lost from school and work, and millions of dollars spent on remedies."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came out with a similar
recommendation last year after studies found that most nits never hatch.
experts and many parents disagree, arguing that the problem affecting between 6
million and 12 million children annually is only going to get worse.
step definitely favors the louse," said Deborah Altschuler, president of the
National Pediculosis Association, a nonprofit organization that has supported
"no nit" policies for nearly two decades.
it's OK to go to school with lice and nits undermines everything we know about
communicable disease prevention," she said.
Altschuler said head lice have become resistant to most over-the-counter
treatments, which contain pesticides that some experts consider harmful to
not missing school because of 'no nit' policies, they're missing school because
the treatments are ineffective," said Altschuler, whose organization sells a
fine-toothed comb to remove nits.
Central Florida school districts, Brevard County is the only one thus far to
rescind its "no nit" policy. That was done quietly earlier this year before the
AAP came out with its report.
aware of the results of the study and had been working with the health
department on this," said district spokeswoman Sara T. Stern. "Parents weren't
notified because we wanted to leave it up to the school nurses and health
the new policy, students with live head lice are sent home and allowed to return
if their parents say they have been treated. Children with nits can stay.
Officials hold the line
school officials in Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Volusia and Lake said they have
no plans to change their "no nit" standards.
Wells, a spokesman for Seminole County schools, questioned how administrators in
Brevard will know for sure whether a child has been treated for lice.
Richard Pollack, a Harvard School of Public Health entomologist who has pushed
to have "no nit" policies removed nationwide, praised Brevard school officials
for bringing the district "into the 21st century.
wrongly connect head lice with squalor," he said. "There's nothing to support
all the hysteria about head lice."
said head lice don't transmit diseases and aren't spread as easily as most
He and a
research team at Harvard also believe that nearly half of the millions of
reported cases are misdiagnosed.
my own little museum of things that have been mistaken for nits in children's
heads -- glitter, knotted hair, lint, hair spray globs, bits of peanut butter
crackers," Pollack said. "It would be funny if these kids were not being sent
home from school.
opinion is that it's a fairly mild annoyance at most," he said.
Port St. John mother in Brevard County, who spent more than a month and $200
trying to rid her two daughters of head lice, disagreed.
awful," said the woman, who asked not to be identified for fear of embarrassing
youngest daughter got it at school and gave it to my oldest daughter who had to
be treated five times," she said.
would sit on the patio for days, trying to get the lice and nits out. The gel
didn't work and neither did that little comb that came with it."
woman said she finally poured cooking oil on her daughter's head and used her
fingernails to scrape along every slick strand of hair.
all the combs and brushes had to be boiled and the sheets and pillowcases and
everything had to be washed in hot water," she said. The bed, couch, chairs and
car had to be cleaned and sprayed with chemicals to kill the lice.
"It is a
very big deal. I told my youngest daughter I would shave her bald if she ever
brought them home again," she said.
Harvard doctor doesn't know what he's talking about."
Sellers can be reached at
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