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Head Lice In School: Guide For Schools and Parents

Head Lice In School: Guide For Schools and Parents
Created on 
June 16, 2020
Updated on 
July 8, 2022

As students begin to return to classrooms, head lice infestations are beginning to make a resurgence. In some schools, occasional cases are cropping up, while other schools are already dealing with full-blown outbreaks. Parents often blame the school for the outbreak, one way or another. 

One elementary school principal called us recently, overwhelmed because so many cases were discovered in so many classrooms that she begged us to come into the school over the weekend and do whatever was necessary to kill all the lice and stop the outbreak. But as we spoke with her, it became apparent that her fears about lice living in the school were unfounded. 

What Are Head Lice?

Head lice are tiny, wingless insects that are parasites found on the head of humans. They feed off of the blood of the scalp and lay eggs on the strands of a child's hair or an adult's hair. The eggs that are laid are secured by a very strong glue and are difficult to remove. Live lice do not fly or jump and they don’t carry infectious diseases. There is no worry about the need for disease control. Lice infestations are spread most commonly by way of direct head-to-head contact with another person with an active infestation which is defined as the presence of live lice.

How Does Lice Spread In A Classroom?

head lice spread at school outbreak class classroom teacher student

During back to school time, there is often an increase in the number of cases of head lice infestation. This is not due to a lack of cleanliness or a need to vacuum carpets. We get calls every day from people asking if we can come to clean their classroom during an outbreak, so it often falls to us to bust some myths. However, the real reason kids get these parasites so often during back to school time is because they will be in close contact to other children who may have a head lice infestation.

The way head lice infestations are passed around in a classroom is via head to head contact. The only way to get rid of lice is to treat the hair shafts. It is a common misconception that head lice can infest a building. Unlike fleas, bed bugs, or even body lice, head lice live their entire life cycle within the human head hair, usually moving along only when they come into direct contact with another human head. If they fall off a head, live bugs will die pretty quickly without a host. If nits (eggs) fall out, they are no longer viable and will not reattach. Crawling off the hair to explore the classroom would be as bad an idea for a head louse as dropping you off in the middle of the Sahara Desert without any supplies.

Another common myth is that children with poor basic hygiene bring head lice to class. This couldn't be farther from the truth: anyone with hair can pick up a case, and lice actually have the easiest time infesting children with squeaky clean hair, as natural hair oils somewhat protect the hair from lice. LiceDoctors - Who Usually Gets Lice?

School Lice Policy

school no nit policy

Like the old game Whac-A-Mole, just as one child eradicates a case, another one shows up infested. With increasing numbers of schools eliminating the "no nit policy," more children may be coming to school and passing lice on to their classmates. In addition, since the chemical treatments often fail to work, increasingly kids come to school post-treatment and within a few days they are contagious again and it is likely they will share with other kids.

Head lice and school policies vary from school to school, but schools are increasingly eliminating their “no nit” policies. This means that kids with nits only may stay for the day. Many schools now even allow children with live bugs to remain until the end of the day so as to avoid stigma and missed class time. School policies have become more lenient based on recommendations from the medical community including both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Nurses stating that too many children were missing school due to this nuisance.

LiceDoctors is in favor of more comprehensive head lice guidelines for schools as well as more peer reviewed studies.

Can Kids Go To School With Lice? 

head lice classroom contagious transmit nit student teacher children policy

The answer depends on your school's particular policy, but if you're wondering can your kid go to school with lice and should they, think of it the other way around...if you've spent time and money treating h this problem, would you want other parents to send their kids to school with bugs?

The risk of going to school with lice is also dependent upon the age of the student, as the physical closeness of their social interactions changes with maturity. The older a student, the less likely they are to pass on a known case at school. Little kids play in close proximity, grabbing onto each other to wrestle and huddling head to head during naptime. Middle and high school kids are in far less contact during class, but as soon as the bell rings they pour into tightly-packed hallways like sand in an hourglass. When college-aged students ask “can you go to school with lice?” it's usually safe to answer “if you have to go to school with lice, wear your hair up, sit one seat away from your classmates, and don't hug anybody”.

Should I Tell School About Head Lice?

school class with lice playground nurse nit contagious

This is a loaded question, because it is not always technically required, and parents worry that the school will call out and embarrass their child. When a parent asks can a child go to school with head lice given the school's policies, and the answer is no, remember that lice are contagious for days before any nits are visible, and weeks before symptoms like itching start. So, even if you followed the rules and took your kid out of class the moment you found the bugs or nits and didn't let them return until you'd treated them, that still leaves a gap between when they were first contagious and when you first noticed, so informing the other parents by informing the school will definitely reduce your child's chances of getting lice again...and again. 

When To Go Back To School After Lice?

It's never good for anyone when a child misses a lot of school because of lice. Schools developed no-nit policies in an attempt to contain outbreaks, but treating lice can be challenging, and often parents treat over and over again just to have the school nurse send or them home for having 1 or 2 nits left in the hair. In the absence of a no-nit policy, the answer to how long after lice treatment can you go to school depends on the efficacy of the treatment.

Parents often ask us “How long out of school for lice?” When can my child go back to school after treatment by LiceDoctors?” The good news is we can almost always offer same-day appointments, and because of our industry-disrupting 99.6% success rate and proprietary aftercare plan, the vast majority of children treated by LiceDoctors will not be contagious the very next day, and can safely return to school after lice. 

Parents' and School Responsibilities

A single child with an active infestation of head lice can spread adult lice to anyone they come into contact with. Therefore, ensuring that a child does not facilitate the spread of head lice in schools is a team effort on the part of the parents of the infested child as well as the school they attend. When both do their part, they can minimize the contagion.

Parents Responsibilities

 includes removing all of the live head lice as well as the lice eggs

Treatment at home is very important. Parents should ensure that an infestation is completely eradicated, which includes removing all of the live head lice as well as the lice eggs. This is no simple task, but successful treatment of a child’s head is possible. Whether the child has short or long hair, check for sesame seed-sized bugs and nits, especially around the ears, and remove what you see. Comb through wet hair. If the child is treated properly, in addition to a thorough check on all family members and treatment where necessary, that child will not spread lice to their peers.

Schools Responsibilities

Schools are responsible for doing what they can to protect children and employees in the school district, as much as is possible, from head lice. This includes setting appropriate policies for returning to school once a case has been detected. Prior to setting these policies, school nurses, as well as school district personnel, should educate themselves to avoid unnecessary absenteeism. For example, children with the presence of lice eggs only, need not be excluded from school as nits are not contagious. The American Academy of Pediatrics is in favor of removing no-nit policies from schools. Information such as this should be considered carefully to craft an effective policy for the district.

School Nurses Responsibilities

Health care providers employed by the school district, such as school nurses, have many responsibilities. One of which is detecting infestations in classrooms. Whether performing these checks themselves or bringing in a service to check classrooms, regular screenings can aid in the early detection of lice cases, which are easier to treat and will aid in the control of head lice in school communities. Because of this, the school nurse and/or school health aide should be knowledgeable about lice, their eggs, and how to identify them.

How To Prevent The Spread Of Lice In Classroom?

school head lice check student activity extracurricular sport gym athletics football cheerleader

Since school is where the largest groups of people socialize the most often, preventing lice at school is key to keeping families lice-free. Since nobody is immune to head lice, it is smart for every parent to do regular head checks for the whole family during the school year. Parents, who have yet to encounter lice in their child’s hair may think who has the time (or the motivation) to sit the kids down and check over and over when they've never gotten lice before? Then, the parent receives a scary note, like “lice in child's classroom, please check heads” and immediately starts to panic. Even when your child doesn't have lice, is the classroom even a safe place to go back to? 

So if you are asking, “How to prevent head lice in the classroom?”, the idea of getting rid of lice in a classroom is often poorly understood. The real problem is not in the classroom itself, but rather on the heads of the students where the lice feed. It is important to note that lice only live off of the child’s head for a day so cleaning the school settings is not the answer. Remember, about 95% of the time, kids get lice directly from touching another human with lice, not from being in a specific room, or sharing most items (with the exception of items that touch multiple heads within a short window of time, like helmets). Getting rid of lice in a classroom really is all about getting rid of lice on everyone's heads, not the room itself.

The best way to prevent a head lice outbreak is for parents to regularly check their kids. The best way to control an outbreak is to have everybody professionally checked, treated when necessary, and then given a treatment plan that works to prevent the return of lice. Anyone with hair can get these parasites, so check all students and staff.

Use Lice Experts For School Head Checks!

no nit policy classroom school nurse professional lice check

Don't let a head lice outbreak get out of control; call in the experts at LiceDoctors for a class head-check the moment a trend becomes apparent. A team of experienced LiceDoctors professionals will be able to quickly identify the students who need to be treated, and you can confidently refer positive cases for our fully guaranteed in-home lice treatment service. For small groups, we can often even treat on-site! Give us a call at 800-224-2537 or visit our website to learn more about our school and camp checks and lice removal treatment service today.

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