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Mother wants school to be ‘nit’ picky about lice

By Karen Rouse
January 03 2007;  The Oscoda Press

OSCODA — The mother of a Cedar Lake Elementary School second grader has launched a campaign to force Oscoda Area Schools to more effectively deal with head lice.

Dissatisfied with answers she has received, Beth Swales of Greenbush said she will take her plea before the Oscoda Board of Education when it next meets on Monday at 7 p.m at Oscoda High School.

She wants it known that Oscoda Area Schools is the only district in the area which has abandoned its “no nit” policy and says she will ask the board to restore traditional prevention measures.

Swales contends that, if students are allowed to return to the classroom with nits, as is currently permitted by the school, the eggs could hatch and repeated exposure can occur.

A nit is defined as the egg or young of a parasitic insect, such as a louse. According to Swales, the present policy is to allow a student infected with head lice to remain in school so long as the student has undergone one treatment with a store-bought product.

“Alcona Community Schools, Tawas City Elementary School, Alpena Public Schools, Whittemore-Prescott Schools, Posen Consolidated Schools and Rogers City Elementary Schools are all adamant that children must be nit free before returning to school, to minimize the spread and infestation of students,” Swales pointed out.

She says this is an unacceptable policy which invites further infestation among children attending elementary school and beyond.

Swales contends that school personnel, upon discovering head lice on a student, allow the infested student to finish out the day and to ride the bus home, instead of being dismissed early and picked up by a parent or guardian.

Her involvement began just before Thanksgiving when notified that her second grade daughter had contracted the parasites.

She kept the child out of school for about seven days while undergoing treatment until the nits were gone. She also cut the child’s hair and asked the school to give her daughter her own locker.

Twice more, without notification from the school, Swale found lice on her daughter’s head and kept her home to rid her of the infestation.

"I think she missed two and one-half weeks in all," reported the mother.

At one point, a school employee informed Swales of the district’s policy to treat the child once and send her back to school, pointing out that the child really shouldn’t miss school, according to Swales.

The employee was referring to the district’s new head lice policy, adopted in 2004 after the Michigan Department of Education revised its own policy and informed schools the immediate removal of a child is unnecessary.

According to the education department, there is no scientific evidence demonstrating that enforced exclusion policies are effective at reducing head lice transmission.

The state policy focuses on the exclusion of active infestations only, which are defined as the presence of live lice or nits found within a quarter inch of the scalp.

It states students found to have live lice may stay in school until the end of the day and are advised to have immediate treatment at home. The policy points out the student will be readmitted to school after treatment and reexamination.

Swales contends that her daughter was not checked upon returning to school after active infestation. This was despite the letter the school sent, instructing her to bring her child for an examination prior to being readmitted. She alleges a paraprofessional at the school told her husband to send her daughter back to school on the bus.

The incident prompted Swales to start at the school level to see what was done and when.

"I don’t see any consistency in upholding any policy," she said of her conversations with Principal Jane Negro, who allegedly admitted to not checking heads correctly, but was said to recognize the problem and is trying to fix it.

Her next step was to speak with District Superintendent Christine Beardsley. She said Beardsley asked her to assemble a packet of information from experts disputing the Michigan guidelines, also inviting her to participate on the School Improvement Team.

Meanwhile, Swales is talking to other parents in the community and is circulating a petition for individuals to sign who support the reversal of the present policy.