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Helen Morgan parents ask district to nix nits!

By Fran Hardy
January 04 2007;  The Gainesville Sun

Sparta - Parents from Helen Morgan Elementary School spoke passionately Monday night at the Board of Education meeting to request a change in district policy they believe will help eradicate a persistent head lice problem at the school.

At least 26 second graders have been diagnosed and treated for head lice in the last two weeks and parents are understandably bugged. Besides the discomfort and frustration of those who are infected, and the stress and worry of those who fear infection, parents are miffed about the district’s policy to allow children back in school after they have undergone a treatment regimen. The policy holds that once lice are dead, the child is no longer able to spread the nasty critters.

However, parents say the problem has been recurring at the school since before Christmas, and they believe the district's policy is not helping. They say that even though no live louse remains on a child’s head, there may still be “nits” or lice eggs, which attach themselves to the base of the hair shaft near the scalp. Unless these nits are completely removed manually, some can remain viable after treatment, and can hatch in 7 to 14 days. The child is then reinfected and can be contagious. The parents want the district to implement a "no nit" policy, recommended by the National Pediculosis Association, which calls for the "exclusion of a child from a school setting until the child is completely free of lice, nits, and egg cases."

Superintendent Dr. Thomas Morton said that the district’s policy is based on the medical advice given to them by the School Nurses Association and the district’s medical examiner, who say that the chemical treatments prescribed for killing the head lice are sufficient, as long as both the treatment and follow-up are done correctly. He said a “no nit” policy, would mean infected children would be kept out of school for the 7 to 14 days.

Some school districts have adopted the “no nit” policy. Many have not because of state and federal pressure to reduce absenteeism and improve academic achievement. Schools are sensitive to the problems of working parents keeping a child home for two weeks. School districts also face the responsibility of providing tutoring when a child is out of school for more than five days.

But Dave and Patty Margalotti, parents of Helen Morgan students, think keeping kids home is well worth it. Their children have not been infected, but since learning of the latest outbreak at the school, they have kept them home. Mrs. Margalotti has taken time off from work just to be home during this time. Mr. Margalotti said, "I strongly request that the board reconsider the district policy, consider what you have heard from parents tonight, and implement a "no nit" policy."

Head lice are one of the most communicable childhood diseases. They live in the hair and scalp and are spread easily from person to person. Head lice can infect anyone, regardless of personal hygiene, and the only treatments involve powerful chemicals applied to the scalp with faithful follow-up treatments and meticulous “nit-picking” to remove any remaining eggs on the scalp.

Charlene O'Sullivan has three children at Helen Morgan. She charges parents with the responsibility of making sure no viable nits remain after treatment. She implored the board, "Please, take the 'no nit' policy seriously."

Board president Michael Schiavoni referred the issue to the Operations Committee, to research the problem and the district’s policy and to be ready to meet at a moment’s notice.