School finds solution to prevent spread of lice

When a breakout of lice became a problem at Redding Elementary School, school officials and the school nurse worked together to review the school’s policy on lice and to find a way to prevent it from spreading further.

Colleen McLeod, school nurse, said younger students don’t understand personal space, so they are hug each other and share hats and other items that can transfer nits or lice.

The current policy at the school is if a teacher suspects a student of having nits or lice, the teacher will send the student to the nurse to be checked, said Ms. McLeod.

“If we don’t find anything, they go back to class. If we do find nits or lice, the student is sent home. We call the parents and when they come in we educate them on treatment,” she said.

Parents can buy over-the-counter medicated shampoo, and they have to nitpick, she said.

“Nit picking is removing the lice from the hair,” she explained.

The student then comes back the following day and is checked again by the nurse. Students who are cleared may go back to class and ride the bus. If nits are present, the student may stay in school, but if the nits hatch into lice, the student must go home, she said.

“We try to operate on a no-nit policy, but it is highly recommended the student goes home” if he or she has nits, she said.

Ms. McLeod said the most important part is to properly and thoroughly nitpick.

“If you miss one egg, it’ll hatch into lice,” she said.

A child with lice is checked every day for nine days. Also, if a child is found to have lice, the entire classroom is checked, she said. The class is then checked a week and even two weeks later.

“Lice don’t fly or jump and they are nocturnal. They like the warmth of the scalp,” said Ms. McLeod.

Outside sources are the usual culprits to spreading lice, according to Ms. McLeod.

“Sleepovers are a big culprit, dance, sports, etc.,” she said. Summer camp is also a source. Kids come back to school after being at summer camp and lice can be spread.

“September is lice awareness month. We did a full school check this year and last year. It didn’t really amount to much, but it gives peace of mind,” said Ms. McLeod.

The life cycle of a louse can be 35 days, she said.

“One louse can lay six to 10 eggs a day, and after a couple of weeks, you can have over a hundred,” said Ms. McLeod. “They keep reproducing. It doesn’t go away on its own.”

The medicated shampoo kills only the live lice, it won’t kill the eggs. Manual removal of the eggs is the only way to get rid of them.

“Proper nitpicking is time-consuming. It can take two to three hours each morning and night,” she said, and for kids in elementary school, it can be hard to sit still that long.

Ms. McLeod said it is easier to detect lice in boys because they tend to have short, buzzed hair. For girls, Ms. McLeod suggests parents keep their hair up in a bun, braids or pigtails.

“We keep hair bands in the office so we can put their hair up,” she said.

Another tip to repel lice, she said, is to buy rosemary spray and spray that into the hair or use products with tea tree oil. Lice do not like rosemary or tea tree oil. It’s a lice shield, Ms. McLeod said.

During a Board of Education meeting, parents spoke about their frustration with lice at the school and wanted the school and board to reconsider the policy of allowing students with nits to stay in school.

At the Jan. 8 meeting, Carrie Wessman Huber, principal at Redding Elementary School, said a way to stop spreading lice is to have large plastic bags for each student in each classroom.

Students put their coat, hat, gloves, and scarves into the plastic bag so they won’t touch other items, she said.

Ms. Wessman Huber said it also became a useful organizational tool when students had to take their items to other rooms.

Ms. McLeod and Ms. Wessman Huber went to each classroom to see if certain things need to be done to stop the spread of lice.

Headphones and headbands are wiped down with an antibacterial cloth and janitors were made aware of rooms with a lice problem, she said.

“Lice live two to three days when not on a host,” said Ms. McLeod.

Information on lice was given in two informational sessions and may be found on the school’s health website.

“A listserv [electronic notification] is sent out every time lice is found in a grade,” she said. “It’s good, it informs the community and makes people aware and to check their children. If they’re itchy it’s a telltale sign.”

As of Jan. 8, Ms. Wessman Huber said, there were no cases of lice at the school.

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