Move to relax Manchester school head lice policy gains momentum
MANCHESTER — A key school board committee has endorsed relaxing the district’s “no-nit” policy in line with the recommendations of city and school health officials.
The Coordination Committee on Tuesday voted to substitute its current lice policy, which requires that students be sent home “immediately” if they’re found to have lice, with one that would allow nurses and principals to send them home as they deem necessary.
The change has been promoted by city Public Health Director Tim Soucy, who spoke before the committee Tuesday alongside Dr. Lisa DiBrigida, the department’s child health services director.
The policy change would also eliminate periodic lice examinations by school nurses. Instead, under the proposed policy, teachers would send any student “suspected of head lice” to the school nurse. If the nurse determines that the child has “live lice” — as opposed to nits, which are eggs and are often inert — parents would be notified and the child would be sent home only if he or she feels “uncomfortable or if the administration deems it necessary.”
The child would be sent home with materials with scientific information about lice and its treatment. The child would be readmitted to school “the next morning, if we can document treatment” had begun, Soucy explained to the committee.
Soucy said many large districts had changed their lice policies in light of research by the American Academy of Pediatrics that has found that lice are not as easily spread as once believed and that removing students suspected of having lice from school was an unsound response.
“We want to move toward a policy that treats the child with dignity, so more aren’t stigmatized or excluded. We believe this policy protects the child, the family and the educational experience,” he said.
DiBrigida said the current policy has led to several students every year missing a significant amount of school.
“In our situation, it ends up being the same kids over and over again; it ends up being devastating for the kids missing school,” she said.Another concern, DiBrigida said, is parents over-medicating their children with lice treatments, which have resulted in “chemical reactions.”
Mitigating the potential for lice to spread can also be handled through classroom management, such as the proximity of hanging coats, DiBrigida added.
Ward 8 school board member Erika Connors noted that other school districts had gone from “no-nit” policies to “no live lice” policies, meant to distinguish eggs from living lice that can spread from child to child. She proposed keeping the old policy in place but making the criteria for sending children home be the discovery of live lice.
But Ward 1 board member Sarah Ambrogi said she felt the policy proposed by Soucy would allow more flexibility.
“It sounds like the school nurse is trying to do a good job managing the situation. I think there are circumstances where if live lice are found on children they need to be sent home, but I think there needs to be leeway.”
The committee voted to adopt the policy advocated by Soucy, but added the word “live” before head lice. Only Ward 6 board member Robyn Dunphy voted against the policy.
The policy still must be approved by the full school board, where it is expected to encounter resistance from some members. Last year a similar change was overwhelmingly rejected, with some board members arguing that the no-nit policy, if anything, should be strengthened.