Schools reluctant to loosen lice policy

GREENFIELD — Greenfield-Central school officials are no longer itching to loosen the policy on head lice.

While the idea of allowing children with lice to stay in a school clinic instead of sending them home was discussed at two school board meetings earlier this year, the policy change has been tabled — some say indefinitely.

Board member Ray Kerkhof cited community concern about the proposed change and other, more pressing priorities for the school board.

“It’s just something we just didn’t really need, we didn’t explain maybe very well,” he said. “We just decided it should be just a non-issue.”

The idea was among 12 school policy changes discussed in January. Corporation nurse Dawn Hanson proposed allowing children to stay quarantined in a school clinic if they have head lice. While their parents would still be notified immediately, Hanson said, they would not be required to pick up their student.

Some parents might not be able to leave work to pick up their child, Hanson said, and children can lose vital instruction time by being sent home.

While they are in the clinic, Hanson said, they could still do their school work.

The idea created a social media outcry from the public on the Daily Reporter’s Facebook page, many parents expressing concern that the parasitic insects that cause itching and swelling would be spread more easily.

Though school board members said they barely heard a peep of direct contact from the public, by February’s school board meeting a small group of school bus drivers showed up to protest the changes.

Driver Kim Langston raised red flags about head-to-head contact on buses.

She feared infestations.

Superintendent Harold Olin suggested the proposed change be pulled from the agenda. The board hasn’t talked about it ever since, and Olin told the Daily Reporter in April it is no longer a priority.

Kerkhof said while the board and school administrators originally thought it was sound advice to loosen a policy that would allow students to keep learning despite having head lice, the complaints from the public gave them pause.

“When the concerns came up, (we thought), ‘Well, maybe it’s not such a good idea.’” Kerkhof said. “We just tabled it, and there are no plans that I know of that’s going to bring it back.”

Hanson said school officials’ focus also has been pulled toward the corporation’s special-education program, which has been in transition since Greenfield-Central announced its plan to pull out of a multicounty special education cooperative.

A lot of time has been spent ironing out details of the new program, which requires the attention of administrators and health professionals alike, she said.

Still, Hanson doesn’t think the issue about how to best handle students with lice is completely dead.

“I think it’s just kind of dropped off everyone’s radar for now,” Hanson said.

“I do plan on pursuing it again in the future.”

Hanson said most parents will pick up their student anyway, and the proposed change would affect only a few families. School clinics would be sanitized after children leave.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 6 million to 12 million infestations of lice occur each year in the United States among children ages 3 to 11. While lice is spread through head-to-head contact by sharing a hair brush or clothing, Hanson suggests lice isn’t as easily spread as most people think.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, The National Association of School Nurses and the CDC all echo that philosophy. By the time a child has a lice infestation, the nurses association states, “he or she may have had the infestation for one month or more and, therefore, poses little additional risk of transmission to others.”

Still, the stigma of lice remains. A public school in Miami proposed a similar change in 2014 but backpedaled after public outcry.

Board members Retta Livengood and Kathy Dowling can still see merit in entertaining a looser policy on handling students with head lice. Livengood said she would rely on the advice of Hanson should the issue be brought up again. Dowling said she might ask why the idea was tabled.

“Lice gives me the heebie jeebies; every time we talk about it, I have to scratch my head,” Dowling said. “But I also understand, especially little kids, they don’t have any control of it. If you send them home, they’re missing their education.”