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Manchester school panel says no to new lice policy

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 12. 2013 9:53PM

MANCHESTER - A few years ago, the state Department of Education issued new guidelines urging school districts to stop subjecting students to mass inspections for lice, sending them home if found to be hosting the tiny parasitic insects.

It took members of the school board of the state's largest school district all of a half-hour to reject the state guidelines, which are based on new research from the American Academy of Pediatrics and other health authorities.

"I think we need to strengthen the existing policy," Manchester board member John Avard said ahead of the vote Tuesday by the board's Coordination Committee. "By not taking infected kids out of the classroom we're just making it worse."

The committee voted unanimously to "receive and file" - or reject - the proposed policy change. The full board will still consider the proposal, but it is unlikely to go against the recommendation of the committee.

District Superintendent Thomas Brennan had proposed revising the "no-nit" policy in response to several recent cases, after consulting? with school and city health authorities.

Under the proposed policy, students "found to have pediculosis capitis (head lice) should be allowed to remain in the classroom if that student is comfortable but can be dismissed at the school nurse's discretion and/or if the parent/guardian would like to expedite treatment of the child."

The policy would have also ended the district's current practice of having a school nurse conduct "periodic examinations of students' heads."

State guidelines

District officials cited the revised state Department of Education of guidelines in proposing the change.

"'No nit' policies contribute to the stigma created around lice. This over-emphasis on case-finding can lead to unproductive use of time by school staff and parents, missed classes, unnecessary absences, and parents missing work," the state DOE notes in the guidelines.

The guidelines further state, "Education of parents in identifying and managing head lice is the most helpful. Parents should be encouraged to check their children's heads for lice if the child is symptomatic and when close contacts have head lice."

Members of the Manchester board, however, raised concerns on Tuesday about how responsive parents would be in addressing their children's condition.

"It's an unfortunate situation. Some people have a hard time fixing the problem," board member Debra Gagnon Langton said.

School policies

The relaxing of "no-nit" policies has been pushed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Nurses.

A widely cited 2009 pediatric academy study found that "no-nit" policies created unnecessary anxiety among students and that teachers and nurses often mistook dandruff, dirt and other conditions for lice.

It's not clear how many districts have changed their lice policies in response to the new research and state guidelines.

Last year, the ConVal District, which includes Peterborough and surrounding towns, issued new guidelines that noted that "Head lice cause unnecessary absence from school and work."

The academy study recommended that only the discovery of live lice necessarily merited treatment. Without a trained eye, determining whether eggs, known as nits, are live or inert is difficult, the study noted.

All about lice

The state guidelines note that despite the conventional wisdom, lice are not easily spread.

"Lice do not jump or fly. They cannot be caught from grass, trees, or animals. They are spread only by crawling from person-to-person directly or onto shared personal items, such as combs, brushes, head coverings, clothing, bedding and towels," the guidelines note.

There are several recommended treatments for lice, including over-the-counter medications, containing Permethrin, such as Rid and Triple X. The are also prescription medications, including Lindane and Malathion.

Nits can be removed using a fine-tooth combs, along with a solution of vinegar and water. The state guidelines recommend a daily nit check for at least 10 days after treatment.

In addition, new technologies have emerged for treating lice.

The state's first head lice treatment salon recently opened in Plaistow. The proprietor uses LouseBuster, an FDA-cleared medical device that she says kills all stages of head lice, including the eggs, in a one-time, 30-minute chemical-free treatment.

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