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School Board Votes to Bring Back No Nit Policy

By Mary Jo Denton
June 12, 2007;  Herald-Citizen

COOKEVILLE -- One discussion the Putnam school board had last week could be described as nitpicking -- literally.

The subject was the official board policy on how to handle outbreaks of head lice, particularly the part that dictates just how many nits on a head will get a student sent back home after returning following treatment for lice.

Under a previous policy, the standard was that a student returning after being sent home for treatment of lice must have no nits (lice eggs that may later hatch out as lice) in order to get back into school.

However, a Coordinated School Health Committee made up of nurses and school principals studied the policy recently and recommended a revision: that when a child returns to school after having been out for treatment of lice, trained school personnel will check the student's head and if no more than five nits are found, the child may stay in school.

But when the revised policy came up for discussion at last Thursday's meeting, board member Daren Shanks said, "I don't like this policy."

"We used to have a no-nit policy (to allow students back into school after treatment for lice). Who's going to check these students? Who's going to count the nits?"

The school's policy says that when a case of lice is discovered at school, parents will be informed and the child will be sent home that day with "written self-care instructions provided by the school." The instructions will include information about treatment and follow-up care to prevent recurrence, but parents are also informed that "none of the products are 100 percent effective," the policy says.

The policy also notes that 30 percent of nits on an infested head "will live after the first treatment" and also states that "the only way to ensure these nits don't hatch into live lice is to manually remove the nits."

The recommended policy goes on to say that after appropriate treatment, a student may return to school and may stay if he or she has no more than five nits.

That counting of nits and allowance for even five is what bothered board member Shanks about the policy revision that was being recommended.

"I make a motion that we go back to the no-nit policy we used to have instead of five nits," Shanks said.

Board member Vern Crabtree seconded the motion, and a short discussion took place.

"The problem is that when you see a doctor (after lice treatment), they give you a note saying you can go back to school," said board chairman Jerry Maynard, who spent most years of his career as a school principal.

Board member Walter Derryberry, himself a physician, sounded an old, familiar comment: "Doesn't it just make your head itch when you talk about lice?"

Board chairman Maynard drew a big laugh from the audience when he replied, "Well, I don't have enough hair left to support any lice."

The Daren Shanks motion (no-nit policy) passed by a vote of four to two, with Shanks, Crabtree, David McCormick, and Maynard voting yes, while Derryberry and Roger Williams voted no.

Director of Schools Kathleen Airhart said she would have the health committee to go back and study the issue again.

Published June 11, 2007 11:32 AM CDT