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Proposed new lice policy for schools needs to be examined

By Gaylene Rehwald
May 08 2007;  Comox Valley Echo

In response to recent articles in the local newspapers about changes being made to the School District 71 Head Lice Policy, the Lice Committee of Ecole Puntledge Park Elementary would like to challenge the policy revisions as proposed by the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA).

VIHA is advocating a British-style 'Bug Buster' program that puts the emphasis of lice control on families, and relies on at-home manual 'wet' combing with hair conditioner to eradicate lice.

Under the suggested policy, schools will drop the old 'no nit' policy, discontinue school-wide head checks, and adopt a strictly educational role of providing information to parents about the bug busting process.

Some schools may welcome this policy shift. Unable to muster up parent volunteers for head checks, and reluctant to continue turning children showing signs of lice out of class, they may view it as a chance to concentrate on education rather than worrying about lice.

However, research indicates that while lice do not carry disease, being infested with lice can have profoundly negative social and emotional effects that adversely impact learning and performance.

Puntledge School is very aware of the difficulties surrounding coping with lice. As recently as two years ago it was commonplace for the school to detect numerous lice infestations, many of them severe and chronic. Not that lice activity is limited to Courtenay; in the 2005-2006 school year several Comox-area elementary schools were similarly faced with significant lice outbreaks. The traditional procedure was to send the child home, inform the parents and advise them to use insecticide shampoos on their children to eliminate this annoying parasite.

However, lice have developed resistance to these chemicals, rendering the shampoos up to 80% ineffective. Furthermore, a growing body of evidence indicates that exposure to such chemical toxins is linked to behavioural disorders, respiratory diseases and other illnesses.

With this in mind, Gaylene Rehwald, a Puntledge parent and the school's Lice Program coordinator, began several years ago to spearhead a different approach -- a campaign to tackle the school's chronic lice problem using non-invasive, non-toxic and effective strategies to assist families struggling with lice. As a result, Puntledge Park has not banished children with lice from school for over 2 years, and the number of infestations has undergone a dramatic decline from about 30-40 cases per year to a mere handful this year.

Clearly, this experience demonstrates that useful in-school methods and best practices exist which could be factored into the drafting of a new school district lice policy.

The current draft policy, to be voted on by school board trustees in June, recommends significant changes in the way lice should be dealt with at our local schools.

The Puntledge Park Lice Committee agrees many of these changes are beneficial and long overdue, including an end to the 'no nit' policy and a move away from the increasingly ineffective and potentially toxic insecticide shampoos.

However, the perspectives and priorities of the school system differ from those of VIHA, and many in the school community fear this policy will fail to meet the needs and best interests of those who must live with it - children, their families and their schools.

The aim of educating and empowering families to detect and cure lice is worthwhile. However, given the rising incidence of head lice infestation in schoolchildren world-wide, a policy which bans schools from the treatment loop and restricts the strategies that will help to halt the spiraling transmission is counterproductive and detrimental.

We urge the Board of Trustees and the school district as a whole to carefully examine and adapt VIHA's proposed policy to meet the needs of the school community.

The Puntledge Park Lice Committee

School District No. 71 - Comox Valley
School Board Offices
607 Cumberland Road
Courtenay, BC
V9N 7G5

Phone: (250) 334-5500
Fax: (250) 334-4472
General Enquiries Email: info@sd71.bc.ca

Gaylene Rehwald
Lice Program coordinator
The Puntledge Park Lice Committee
École Puntledge Park Elementary