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State school officials consider loosening head lice restrictions

KDHE epidemiologist says once parasites die, eggs are no longer contagious

Thursday, October 13, 2005

State education officials were scratching their heads Wednesday over a Kansas law that bars children with head lice from attending school until they are nit-free.

State epidemiologist Gail Hansen told the Kansas State Board of Education there is no reason for the rule because once the lice are killed through treatment, the nits, or eggs, aren’t contagious.

“Really, there is no need for a child to miss school,” Hansen said.

That led board chairman Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, to suggest the state should change such a “dumb regulation.”

But Lawrence parents on Wednesday were skeptical of such discussion, saying they want to make absolutely sure their children never have to risk catching lice from their classmates.

“I would want to know that they are actually using the shampoo and that they are using it correctly,” said Laura Ross, a Lawrence resident with three children in Lawrence schools. “It seems like that would be hard for people to actually know.”

Sally Mayer, a Lawrence resident with two children in local schools, was also unsure.

“I’m no expert because we’ve never had to deal with it, but I’ve heard that they’re really hard to get rid of,” she said. “All I know is I don’t want my kids to get it.”

Other members of the state board were inclined to agree.

Former elementary school teacher Connie Morris, R-St. Francis, said she believed the current policy “is fair to all.”

She said rural areas are susceptible to outbreaks because many schools don’t have nurses to check head lice. It is best to isolate cases to keep lice from spreading because treatments, such as special shampoos and lotions, are expensive and harsh on a person’s hair, she said.

But Hansen said studies have shown that repeat cases of head lice in schools are no different in areas that keep the children home until all nits are gone and those that allow children to come back sooner.

Other board members said they wouldn’t want to see any change in the regulation without a major education campaign for parents.

Board member Sue Gamble, R-Shawnee, said one of the most disturbing things a parent can receive from school is the note that says a case of head lice has appeared in school.

“There is a perception problem,” Gamble said.

Hansen said the Kansas Department of Health and Environment wasn’t seeking to change the rule, but was simply trying to provide information at the request of the Education Board.

She said the state collects no data on school days missed because of head lice. Treatment to get the child free of nits generally takes three to five days, she said.

Hansen noted KDHE tried to change the regulation in 2000 and “frankly we got beat up about it.” She said many parents and school nurses opposed any changes.

Sensing a division over the issue on the board, Abrams told Hansen there probably wouldn’t be any recommendation from the state education agency.


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