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Should Kids With Head Lice Stay at School?

Every parent I know dreads the phone call from the school nurse — especially when she’s calling to inform you that you must pick up your kid because they have lice.

If you haven’t gotten it yet, it’s likely that you’ll get the dreaded phone call at some point. An estimated 6 million to 12 million infestations of head lice occur in the U.S. each year, mainly among children ages 3 to 12, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Lice may no longer be the social stigma it once was (because we all know by now that it has nothing to do with cleanliness), but it’s still a major pain in the…head. In addition to combing out your child’s hair with a special nit-picking comb, you’ve also got to sequester her favorite stuffed animals and toss her bedding into the laundry. But do you need to keep your kid home from school?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that lice have grown more persistent and getting rid of them is even tougher. Apparently, some of the most common treatments for killing head lice are no longer as effective because lice have built up a resistance to them. Some new treatments may take a week or more. Should kids have to miss school until all the lice eggs are gone?

“No,” says the AAP, which opposes “no-nit” policies, which require that a child who has lice is sent home from school and can’t return until any sign of lice eggs are gone. According to the AAP, there is no medical reason to take kids out of school because head lice is not as contagious as the schools make it seem. By the time they are discovered at school, most lice is past the contagious point.

I’m amazed to hear that schools with “no-nit” policies have approximately the same number of head lice cases than schools that without “no-nit” policies.

Because head lice is more persistent than ever, it might take three treatments a week apart in order to completely eradicate the lice. As long as a child is receiving treatment for lice, they should be allowed back to school, according to the AAP.

That all sounds reasonable, but how do we enforce that the child is being treated?

It’s true that sending a kid home from school until they are nit-free not only stigmatizes them, but hurts their education. But I’ve seen firsthand how lice can spread through a classroom.

The National Pediculosis Association (NPA), a nonprofit parents group that promotes the use of non-chemical solutions to treatment lice, favors “no-nit” policies at schools. The NPA says sending kids with lice home makes it easier for schools to manage lice. Besides, how are schools supposed to determine which nits are okay to leave and which aren’t?

What do you think? Should kids with lice be able to stay in school?

Photo: flickr/clickcraftsman

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