Parents 'bugged' by Pullman school lice policy - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Parents 'bugged' by Pullman school lice policy

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PULLMAN, Wash. -

A less restrictive policy regarding lice has parents at Sunnyside Elementary School scratching their heads.

The policy, which follows the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lets kids with live lice in their hair back in the classroom.

The school says they still send letters to parents if lice is found in their child's classroom.

The Pullman Public School District adopted these changes in February 2014. But the district is one of many across Washington and the U.S. to adopt the more lenient lice policy.

Spokane, Mead, Central Valley, East Valley, West Valley, Seattle, and Tacoma public school districts are just a few of many to let kids with head lice stay in the classroom.

Previously, most schools have required children with lice to be sent home, in an attempt to prevent the spread to other children.

Children haven’t been allowed to return to the classroom until all the lice and nits, or lice eggs, are removed.

The policy shift is designed to help keep children from missing class, shield children with lice from embarrassment and protect their privacy.

Some questions and answers about head lice and the new policies.

Q: WHAT ARE LICE AND WHO GETS THEM?

A: Lice are tiny grayish-white bugs that infest a scalp, sucking bits of blood every few hours. Lice don’t jump or fly. They crawl. They are not a sign of poor hygiene.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that there are 6 million to 12 million head lice infestations each year in the United States among children 3 to 11 years old. While itchy and unpleasant, health experts say lice don’t spread disease and are not a health hazard.

Q: IF THEY’RE NOT A HEALTH HAZARD, WHY ARE KIDS SENT HOME?

A: Schools and parents feared that children in close quarters would spread lice to one another.

Q: WHY THE CHANGE IN POLICY?

A: Itchy children probably had lice for three weeks to two months by the time they’re sent to the nurse.

Classmates already would have been exposed. There’s little additional risk of transmission if the student returns to class for a few hours until the end of the day, when a parent would pick up the child and treat for lice at home.

Q: WHAT DO THE EXPERTS SAY?

A: The American Academy of Pediatrics updated its guidelines in 2010 to adopt a “do not exclude” infested students recommendation for schools dealing with head lice. It has long encouraged schools to discontinue “no-nit” policies. The itty-bitty nits – which can often be confused with dandruff – cement themselves to the hair shaft, making removal difficult.

The National Association of School Nurses revised its position the following year. In its guidance, the association said children found with live head lice should remain in class but be discouraged from close direct head contact with others and said the school nurse should contact the parent to discuss treatment.

The association doesn’t have figures on how many schools have adopted less restrictive policies. Policies vary by state and often by school district.

Q: WHAT DO OTHERS THINK?

A: The National Pediculosis Association in Massachusetts opposes relaxing bans on lice and says the updated policies spread the bugs. Pediculosis means infestation of lice.

“The new lice policy throws parental values for wellness and children’s health under the bus,” says Deborah Altschuler, head of the Newton-based group. “It fosters complacency about head lice by minimizing its importance as a communicable parasitic disease.”

The association says lice treatment shampoos are pesticides that are not safe for children and not 100 percent effective. The group instead urges parents to screen regularly and use a special comb to manually remove lice and nits from a child’s hair.

The CDC says the nits are “very unlikely to be transferred successfully to other people” – and many schools have dropped their no-nit policies. But supporters of no-nit rules, such as the National Pediculosis Association, say the eggs will hatch new lice and need to be removed before a child is considered lice-free.

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