Schools relax rules about lice

Herald Staff Writer

Lice prevention in local schools is more relaxed than it was years ago.

Gone are the days of mass screenings of students in the nurse’s office. Now, the Indiana Department of Education recommends that schools not waste important instructional time searching the scalps of every child. Many local schools have abandoned the old practice and instead wait for a teacher to recommend a particularly itchy student be checked out.

“The (state) is sort of discouraging mass screenings because they have found they’re not really effective,” North Spencer School Corp. nurse Debbie Fischer said. “We don’t do a lot of mass screenings unless we see that we’ve got a big problem in that classroom. We weren’t finding that we were picking up much in the screenings. It’s like a needle in a haystack trying to find where they picked it up.”

Fischer said there are always children with lice, especially during the colder months, but she doesn’t see the issue as big enough to spark real concern. The corporation’s lice policy states that children with live bugs found in their hair are immediately sent home from school, or in the case when a parent or guardian cannot be reached, they are usually confined to the nurse’s office for the rest of the day. Fischer explained that infested students are not to return to class until they have been properly treated.

However, the corporation does not have a “no nit” policy in place anymore.

Nits are the egg stage of lice, and Fischer said it often is nearly impossible to tell whether those eggs are alive or dead in a child’s hair. Students who are infested with only nits and not adult bugs are allowed to stay in the classroom, but they are closely monitored and a note is sent home to warn their parents that the eggs could hatch.

“If you have a no-nit policy, you’re going to have someone who is completely responsible for going through that child’s hair. You can miss a nit,” she explained. “We look at them to make sure that they haven’t hatched.”

At Southeast Dubois schools, the lice policy is even more relaxed. Corporation nurse Marian Bromm said students with only a small number of adult lice in their hair are allowed to remain in the classroom, but parents are required to treat them at home. She added that it is unreasonable to pull a student out of important classes for a condition that is seldom contagious and does not directly pose a health risk.

“They do not fly, they do not jump,” Bromm said of lice. “Head-to-head contact is the only way you’re going to get them. If you send a kid home with lice, do you send a kid home who has a common cold?”

Only those children with an obvious extreme case of lice are sent home for treatment immediately, Bromm said, and when a case crops up in one of the four corporation schools, she usually screens that child’s close friends as well as the students sitting nearby in the classroom. Mass screenings are not conducted in the district.

Southwest Dubois School Corp. has changed its policy within the last couple of years to allow students with nits one-half inch or more from the center of the scalp to remain in school. Corporation nurse Sarah Heichelbech said when the eggs are found farther down in the hair, it usually means they are no longer viable and will not hatch. Heichelbech no longer conducts mass screenings of students because of the disruption to education. It is more efficient to simply search the children who are showing obvious signs of infestation and notify the parents, she said.

Holy Family School maintains a strict lice policy. Principal Sally Sternberg said students with adult bugs or eggs in their hair are sent home immediately and cannot return until they are treated. Parents of other students in that chid’s classroom are informed of the infestation as well.

“We just want to make sure we keep it at bay as much as possible,” Sternberg said.

Similarly, Greater Jasper Consolidated Schools Superintendent Tracy Lorey said whether a student has live lice or simply eggs, the infested student goes home for treatment and doesn’t return until nothing is left crawling on the scalp. An entire class is screened after one child is found with bugs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are 6 million to 12 million head lice infestations each year in the country among children ages 3 to 11. The American Academy of Pediatrics updated its guidelines in 2010 to adopt a recommendation not to exclude infested students from the classroom.

Contact Claire Moorman at

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