Several Schools Across U.S. Drop Their “No Nit” Head Lice Policies
A new trend is creeping across the country; schools are dropping their “no nit” lice policies. As little as five years ago, almost every school district in the country had a “no nit” policy in place, which prevents children with lice eggs to return to school until they have eliminated the case. Now the majority of clients we treat are in schools that have dropped their “no nit” policies. This is a radical shift from what we have seen historically.”
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.
Definition of the Policies
“No Nit” Policy
A “no nit” policy means that children are not allowed in school with any nits (lice eggs) in the hair. In reality, there is some variation: some school nurses will actually pick out a few nits if that is all that they see and allow the child to stay in school. Other nurses will see one nit and send the child home. The latter is the exception rather than the rule.
“No Live Lice” Policy
A “no live lice” policy means that children with nits may stay in school, however, students with live bugs will be sent home. Again, there is room for interpretation of this rule. In some schools, the child with live bugs will be allowed to remain in school until the end of the school day and then will be sent home to be treated and not allowed back to school until all live lice have been killed. In other cases, children with live bugs will be sent home immediately for treatment. A third interpretation of this policy is that children with live bugs and nits within a quarter of an inch from the scalp will be sent home as these cases are deemed “active.” Children with nits farther from the scalp are allowed to remain in school.
“Live Lice and Nits” Allowed Policy
Then there is the third policy, which is the most lenient of all: children with live lice and nits are permitted to remain in school. While many schools educate parents and students about head lice, the schools with very liberal policies place a special emphasis on education to try to prevent and contain head lice.
Reasons for Trend Away from “No Nit” Policies
The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP), the National Association of School Nurses (NASN), and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advocate that “no-nit” policies should be discontinued. Some of the reasons are as follow:
- The burden of unnecessary absenteeism to the students, families and communities far outweighs the risks associated with head lice.
- Misdiagnosis of nits is very common during nit checks conducted by non-medical personnel.
- Many nits are more than ¼ inch from the scalp. Such nits are usually not viable and very unlikely to hatch to become crawling lice, or may in fact be empty shells, also known as casings.
- Nits are cemented to hair shafts and can not be transferred successfully to other people.
- It usually takes a few weeks for a case of head lice to be diagnosed during which time the child has been in contact with other children.
The AAP policy states, “Because a child with an active head lice infestation likely has had the infestation for 1 month or more by the time it is discovered and poses little risk to others from the infestation, he or she should remain in class but be discouraged from close direct head contact with others. If a child is diagnosed with head lice, confidentiality must be maintained. The child’s parent or guardian should be notified that day by telephone or by having a note sent home with the child at the end of the school day stating that prompt, proper treatment of this condition is in the best interest of the child and his or her classmates… A child should not be restricted from school attendance because of lice, because head lice have low contagion within classrooms. Some schools have had “no-nit” policies under which a child was not allowed to return to school until all nits were removed. However, most researchers agree that no-nit policies should be abandoned…Numerous anecdotal reports exist of children missing weeks of school and even being forced to repeat a grade because of head lice.”
Parents Should Be Vigilant About Head Lice Checks
While this trend toward more lenient head lice policies in schools is likely to continue, it is important for parents to be vigilant about head lice checks. If you suspect that your child has head lice, give LiceDoctors a call and we can either come to your family to check or we can give you an idea over the phone of if what you describe to us sounds like lice or nits. It is also incumbent upon parents to know the lice policy of your school district. Your local school nurse or district health supervisor can assist with this or you can check the LiceDoctors School Lice Policy blogs.