It’s back-to-school time, and with each September comes the first teacher postings about lice. School policies and procedures have changed. In the educational community, we’ve all noticed the difference. It used to be common practice that when lice was discovered on a student’s head at school that student would be sent home to be treated. Then, they would be checked at school again before they were sent back into the classroom. Those days are almost gone. When did things change and why?
According to an article written by Laura Geggel for the August 8, 2016 issue of Live Science, “The reason for this sea change stems from revised recommendations from three key medical organizations: the Center for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Association of School Nurses. All three of these groups now recommend that children with nits be allowed to remain in school. They even go so far as to suggest that children with live lice be permitted to remain in class until the end of the day at which point they should be sent home to be treated.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics is a trusted resource for school policy makers. Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends Permethrin (an insecticide) at 1% for the treatment of head lice. There are two considerations that make this recommendation problematic.
First, there are a growing number of well-meaning parents who refuse to immunize their children against common childhood diseases. They currently have the legal right to do this, although change seems to be in the wind. Can we count on all our parents to put an insecticide onto their children’s heads, even if we know that this is what the current scientific community recommends? Perhaps they have a reason to be weary.
Second, lice are becoming resistant to the standard over-the-counter treatments of Permethrin. In fact, in the same Live Science article mentioned above, John Clark, a professor of environmental toxicology and chemistry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is reported to say that, “The most popular lice treatments, which use insecticides called permethrins and pyrethroids, are now relatively useless.”
As a teacher, this article struck a chord with me because those were the exact words that I heard from a school nurse at our school as she was doing a lice check on my head as part of a whole school check. Her advice to me was to make using the common lice comb a part of my everyday showering routine.
I took that advice, happily parked a lice comb on my shower shelf, and began using it methodically each time I washed my hair after I applied conditioner. I find the lice combs are very difficult to pull through your hair when dry, but very easy to pull through wet hair that has just been conditioned, even very long hair. The teeth in the lice comb are so fine that they pull the nits off your hair shaft. The metal combs are supposed to be better than the plastic, but combing regularly is the key. If you do this prophylactically, you might be able to prevent a lice infestation from taking hold in your head before you know it.
Laura Geggel goes on to report that there are also three new prescription lice medications that are still effective against lice: Ulesfia, Natroba and Sklice. As teachers, we know that there will be parents who will and who will not treat. Lice treatment is expensive, and cleaning repeatedly for lice can feel overwhelming. What can we do?
I’d like to suggest that parent education begin before the first lice outbreak. That way, no one student or family will feel singled out. Send home an informational flyer in the summer packet if your school mails one, and make the lice life-cycle and treatment a part of your Back to School Parent Info Packet. Feature it in your presentation. Show parents the types of treatments available and perhaps even have metal combs for purchase at cost. You can even purchase a box of plastic combs and send them home with families for free at the beginning of the year, if you choose. These are the kind of combs I hand out for free because they are relatively inexpensive for a 12-pack, and this is the type of comb I use for myself.
But there is more we can do as teachers. We can get the kids involved as well. Even kindergarteners can use their life science skills to learn about the life cycle of the lice. At the end of this article I have listed several links to Teachers Pay Teachers products already available for teachers to get inquiring minds interested in the topic at a range of grade levels.
Ultimately, we need to remember that lice are bothersome, but do not spread disease, and that is why the recommendations to keep children in the classroom have been made, in an attempt to guard precious instructional time.