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Head Lice In School: Guide For Schools and Parents

Head Lice In School: Guide For Schools and Parents
Updated on 
March 27, 2017

As students begin to return to classrooms, lice 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, so overwhelmed because so many cases of head lice 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 didn’t align with what we know to be true about head lice. 

How Does Lice Spread In A Classroom?

head lice spread at school outbreak class classroom teacher student

How do kids get lice so often during back-to-school time? Wouldn’t it take a while for an infestation to build up in a classroom, and aren’t schools cleaned before kids return from vacation? We get calls every day from people asking if we can come clean their classroom or school during a head lice outbreak, so it often falls to us to bust some myths. 

The way head lice spreads in a classroom is via head to head contact. The only way to get rid of lice is to treat the heads. 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. They don’t jump or fly, and if they fall off a head they’ll die pretty quickly without a host. 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 get head lice, 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

children classroom spread lice school no nit policy policies

Like the old game Whac-A-Mole, just as one child eradicates the lice, 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 children come to school post-treatment and within a few days they are contagious again.

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

LiceDoctors is in favor of more comprehensive head lice guidelines for schools.

Can Kids Go To School With Lice? 

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 head lice, would you want other parents to send their kids to school with lice?

head lice classroom contagious transmit nit student teacher children policy

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 of lice 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?

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 lice, and didn’t let them return until you’d treated, 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. 

school class with lice playground nurse nit contagious

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 their child sent 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 lice 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. 

How To Prevent The Spread Of Lice In Classroom?

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 may think who has the time (or the motivation) to sit the kids down and check kids 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. It is important to note that lice only live off of the head for a day so cleaning the classroom 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.

school head lice check student activity extracurricular sport gym athletics football cheerleader dance baseball wrestling athlete nit

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 head lice, 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 in lice becomes apparent. A team of experienced LiceDoctors lice 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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