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Aliso Viejo parents upset over schools' lice policy
Capistrano district says kids with nits OK so long as lice are dead.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Kristen Cameron kissed her daughter goodnight, carefully avoiding her head slathered with mayonnaise.

She used the oil-based condiment as a natural alternative to kill an infestation of head lice that was resistant to more common treatments. The one-time treatment proved successful and, at the same time, traumatizing.

"The experience was disgusting," Cameron said of the incident that happened two years ago. "Nothing was working. But the mayonnaise smothered the lice and made the eggs fall right off her hair. To this day, she can't even stand the smell of it."

Cameron's daughter, now a fourth-grader at Canyon Vista Elementary School, hasn't had an outbreak since.

Other children in Aliso Viejo haven't been so fortunate.

Many elementary schools in the city have recently seen a high occurrence of head lice in students from kindergarten to fifth grade.

Frustrated parents blame the latest outbreak on what they say is a flaw in the Capistrano Unified School's District's head lice policy. District officials maintain that the policy is consistent with the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Orange County and State Health departments.

The district supports a "no live lice" policy, which states if a student comes to school with adult lice, he or she is sent home with notification detailing options for treatment.

When more than one student has lice, the school sends a similar letter home with the entire classroom.

Proof of treatment must be shown before a student can return to class. If the lice eggs, or nits, are still visible post- treatment, it's OK.

"Once students have been treated, you can assume most of the lice are dead," said Andrea Karolys, a lead nurse with Capistrano Unified. "If students have dead eggs, we check to see if anything's moving. If they've been treated with proof, the probability is pretty small."

That's where parents have a problem.

Many want to see a "no nit" policy instated in their children's schools. This means if one egg, dead or alive, is found on a student's scalp, he or she is not allowed to attend school until every nit is eradicated.

"All the schools need to update or change their policy," said Anne Vittemberga, a mother of two girls who attend Canyon Vista. "Going by the district policy is very frustrating to me. It tells people 'don't alert other parents because you'll cause a panic' or 'you're going to cause absenteeism.' In reality, we're all a lot calmer by being more aware."

An itchy ponytail prompted a 10-minute search through her daughter Cara's hair where she found a nit about the size of a sesame seed. Vittemberga, a hairstylist, said she was lucky since she works with hair every day and knew what to look for.

"For most people, it's very difficult to see the nits," she said. "You have to really be diligent. If you miss one little egg that didn't die, they could get it again."

Capistrano Unified in its 2006-07 year-end health services report recorded 387 cases of students who were excluded from school due to head lice.

That's roughly .7 percent of all students in the 51,000-student school district, according to Pamela Kahn, coordinator of health and wellness for the Orange County Department of Education.

In a similar report, the Santa Ana School District, with about 54,000 students, recorded a 1.3 percent exclusion rate.

Still, CUSD officials insist that many students are getting head lice from activities outside of school.

"We don't see anymore lice now than in the past," Karolys said. "It's a common occurrence that usually doesn't originate from a school situation. They crawl from head to head at sleepovers or at sports activities where hats are commonly shared."

Alexis Stevens missed three days of class at Don Juan Avila Elementary School after her mother Yvonne Stevens spotted lice in her hair following a sleepover with friends. Stevens' younger daughter Claire was kept out of school for the same reason.

Standing in the sunlight for two hours as Stevens scoured small sections of the girls' hair became an after-school activity, while washing pillow cases daily and boiling brushes were added to the list of family chores.

"It's a nuisance," Stevens said. "The school hides behind the district's policy instead of taking a stand. Parents may be ashamed of head lice, but I'm the first one on the phone calling the school. I have nothing to be ashamed of. The more we talk about it, the more everyone's aware."