Almanac

Schools - March 2, 2011

School board scratches head over 'lice' policy

• Board decides on less-restrictive rules.

by Miranda Simon

The head lice policy affecting children in the Menlo Park City School District will be less restrictive, allowing most kids to stay in school if the insect or its eggs are found in their hair, after the school board endorsed updating the policy on Feb. 10.

The board instructed district staff to revise a 2003 policy that required students to be sent home immediately if lice or their eggs — known as nits — are found. Under that policy, the student was allowed to return to school only after a parent certified that he or she had begun anti-lice treatment.

The rules are being updated to allow most children to stay in school until the school day is over when lice are detected. Children who have nits in their hair will not have to be excluded at all. According to a draft of the new policy presented by Superintendent Ken Ranella at the meeting, "(medical) data does not support school exclusion for nits."

Changes in the rules were spurred by parents' complaints that keeping kids who have lice or nits home caused them to miss instruction unnecessarily. Parents pointed out that the district's guidelines were inconsistent with current national and state guidelines, said board member Mark Box.

Mr. Box said several parents had complained about the policy. "It's hard to know how many parents had concerns. I got e-mails from several. It's an issue that a fair number of parents are interested in," he said. "It's an emotion-laden issue for some parents. With lice, there's a connotation (that it means) lack of cleanliness."

After reviewing guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the California Department of Health Services and California School Nurses Association, the district found that "head lice infestations do not pose a health hazard. ... The management of (head lice) should not disrupt the educational process," according to the draft policy.

Despite agreement across the board that the old policy should be revised, trustees discussed the minutiae involved in implementing the new one.

Among the main issues discussed was whether children with active head lice should be sent home as soon as lice are detected, or after the school day ends, as the California Department of Human Health advises. Some staff members voiced concern that if children with head lice aren't excluded right away, the lice would propagate throughout the school. Others were concerned that one child's excessive head scratching may distract other children in the classroom.

District nurse Pat Christie suggested each student be assessed individually to determine whether they should leave school immediately when head lice are detected.

The board decided that the school should notify parents as soon as lice are detected, but that the child should be able to stay in school until the end of the day, unless Ms. Christie considers it necessary to send the child home immediately.

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