MANCHESTER — The Board of School Committee is willing to take a closer look at revising its head lice policy, although several members remain steadfast in maintaining the district’s “no tolerance” approach.
The school board voted at its meeting Monday to send to committee a proposal backed by the city’s public health director and the district’s administration; it would no longer send students home immediately who are found to have head lice or nits.
Citing the latest recommendations and research by health authorities, the administration proposed a similar change last year, but it was overwhelmingly rejected by the school board’s Coordination Committee.
City Public Health Director Tim Soucy told the board Monday that the policy of pulling students suspected of having lice out of school and sending them home was outdated.
“I think there are a lot of myths about head lice. I think there’s a lot of undue concern. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen and it doesn’t cause stress,” he said. “But our goal is to keep kids in school ... We believe this is in line not only with the state of New Hampshire, but around the country.”
The relaxing of “no-nit” policies has been advocated by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Nurses, as well as the state Department of Education.
“‘No nit ’ policies contribute to the stigma created around lice,” the DOE notes in guidelines it recently adopted. “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.”
Still, several school board members on Monday reiterated their opposition to relaxing the lice policy.
Ward 10 board member John Avard, who has been outspoken in defending the no-nit stance, noted the city has gotten tough on bed bugs in recent years.
“They’re both blood-sucking parasites. We don’t allow them in the schools.”
Ward 9 board member Art Beaudry said based on the feedback he had received, there was very little support for relaxing the policy.
“I respect what you’re saying, but I respectfully disagree,” he told Soucy. “I think the current policy should not only be retained, but made stronger.”
Others signaled more willingness to alter the head lice policy.
Ward 3 member Chris Stewart noted that changing the policy was backed by the city’s own health director, as well as health experts from Harvard Medical School.
“So there are a lot of smart people who want this policy?” he asked Soucy, who nodded.
Ward 8’s Erika Connors said she had done some research and found that several districts, such as Boston and New York, have policies that distinguish between lice and nits — the eggs that often can be misidentified or inert.
In the end, the board voted to back a motion from at-large board member Kathy Staub, to have a school nurse come in and provide a presentation to the Coordination Committee.
“They’re on the frontlines of this,” she said.