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Manchester school board to take a closer look at lice policy

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 09. 2014 10:26PM

MANCHESTER — School board members tonight are expected to review proposed changes to the district’s policy on dealing with cases of head lice, changes that mirror a proposal the board rejected last year.

The revised policy would bring the city more in line with state guidelines, which encourage keeping students with lice in school.

“Parents are concerned,” said school board member John Avard, Ward 10, who voted against the changes in February 2013. “I expect a few of them to come to the meeting. They want to be told if someone in their child’s class is found to have lice. They don’t want their child put at risk of getting it. I understand their concerns. I have four daughters — that’s a lot of hair in our house.”

The proposed changes to the policy read: “Any student suspected of head lice should be sent to the school nurse. Parents/guardians will be notified if their child has head lice and the child will be sent home if he/she is uncomfortable or if the administration deems it necessary. Instructions will be provided to the parent/guardian and student regarding the treatment and future prevention of head lice. The school nurse will conduct ongoing assessments of individual students as needed.”

Current school policy states that “students found to have pediculosis (head lice and nits) by the school nurse shall be immediately sent home. The student may be readmitted after appropriate treatment and examination by the school nurse.”

The New Hampshire Department of Education website says “‘no nit’ policies contribute to the stigma created around lice.”

“The student should be allowed to remain in the classroom that day if comfortable and return to school the following day,” reads a recommendation posted at the website. “There is no research data that demonstrates that enforced exclusion policies are effective in reducing the transmission of lice.”

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.”

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.

An estimated 6 to 12 million cases of head lice infestation occur each year in the United States in children 3 to 11, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Manchester Health Director Tim Soucy said during the 2012-2013 school year, there were 88 reported cases of head lice in the Manchester school district in October, 86 in November, 66 in December, 17 in January and seven in February.

“That’s when we stopped categorizing it as a communicable disease,” said Soucy. “We stopped tracking it, and I don’t have records beyond that.”

The Board of School Committee is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Aldermanic Chambers on the third floor of City Hall.

“The state and health officials say lice is not a communicable disease, but the fact is we all know of cases where lice has spread in the schools,” Avard said. “We need to strengthen the current policy, not weaken it.”

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