The best time to talk to school officials about head lice is before there is an outbreak in the school—like at the beginning of school year—when no one is in a state of crisis. Schools have been dealing with head lice for decades and most have a procedure for dealing with outbreaks. Find out what your school’s procedure is in order to be prepared when and if the time comes to use it.
The time will likely come. With 6-12 million cases of head lice estimated to occur each year, odds are that you’ll be dealing with the little bugs at your school. Understanding how you can work with school officials can make it easier.
When the time does come, if you find head lice on your child, by all means, contact the school nurse or the appropriate school official. You might be embarrassed, but the reality is that the more quickly the school and other parents are informed, the less severe the outbreak will be.
If you are contacted by the school about lice in your child’s class, or on your child’s head, don’t “shoot the messenger.” School leaders are doing their jobs. Most of the time they are happy to help you deal with the situation.
Teachers, administrators, and school nurses have been dealing with lice throughout their careers. Usually, they are a source of calm when parents get hysterical. They know the facts. Head lice have nothing to do with hygiene and cleanliness. They don’t cause any health problems. They will go away. That said, most people don’t want them around and lice have been historically extremely difficult to eradicate.
Many school districts have changed their policies on head lice. In the past, a “no-nit” policy was common—meaning a child must stay home from school until he or she is declared free of live lice and eggs (nits). Strict “no nits” policies are now opposed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Association of School Nurses. The reason? “The burden of unnecessary absenteeism to the students, families, and communities far outweighs the risks associated with head lice,” according to the CDC.
Children simply need to be more careful with their hair when dealing with lice. Once you comb out the live lice, there is little risk of spreading lice to others. Nits don’t spread. Long hair should be pulled back. Hats, brushes, and clothes that touch hair should not be shared.
We believe in “honesty is the best policy” about head lice, especially in schools. There is a tendency for parents to “blame and shame” one another, which really isn’t necessary. No one did anything wrong. Teachers, unfortunately, are often stuck in the middle and that’s not fair. If everyone was honest about when and where they find head lice in their families, everyone’s life would be a little easier.