Parent says Duluth schools' new lice policy is lousyJennifer Keith said she’s convinced that her daughter has gotten head lice at least eight times this school year at her school, Nettleton Elementary. She blames a revised procedure in the Duluth schools that allows children to remain in school even if they have lice.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Treating her daughter for head lice is getting expensive, Jennifer Keith said.
“I’m on a limited income, and I’m spending $100 on sprays and carpet shampoos and the head-lice shampoo itself,” Keith said. “And hours and hours of combing out my daughter’s hair.”
Keith said she’s convinced that her daughter, second-grader Sammi Keith, has gotten head lice at least eight times this school year at her school, Nettleton Elementary. She blames a revised procedure in the Duluth schools that allows children to remain in school even if they have lice.
“I know she’s getting it at school,” Keith said.
Lori Saari, a school nurse at Ordean East Middle and Congdon Elementary schools, confirmed that the district’s procedure for lice changed with this school year. Under the previous procedure, children with lice would be sent home. Now, the child’s parents are notified if lice are discovered, but the student can stay in school.
Parents can still come and get their child to treat him or her immediately if they choose, Saari said. She estimated that happens 90 percent of the time.
The school district’s policy was changed to conform to recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Minnesota Department of Health, the National Association of School Nurses and the American Academy of Pediatrics, Saari said.
All have reached the same conclusions about head lice and schools, Saari and other health officials said:
“Fortunately, lice generally don’t take a peek out of one kid’s head and say, ‘I’m going to run across the room to that kid over there,’ ” said David Neitzel, an epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health.
Added Guy Peterson, St. Louis County public health director: “Transmission in the classroom is very rare.”
Lice can be transmitted through shared combs and brushes or shared hats, but even then the odds are against the lice, Saari said. “It’s very difficult for lice to hang on to combs, scarves or hats,” she said.
“There is no disease with head lice,” Saari said. “It’s a public health nuisance. It’s not like whooping cough, where children die.”
“The goal is to keep students in the classroom,” Saari said.
Keith said she was admonished about her daughter’s missed class time. But Sammi has been absent only six days this school year, her mother said, and only to make sure she didn’t return to school with lice.
She disagrees with the conclusion that lice are only a nuisance. They can be a health hazard, Keith said, because if children scratch the bites they can become infected.
She has gone to great lengths to combat the problem, Keith said, vacuuming her floor, spraying her furniture, thoroughly washing and drying fabrics. She has taken Sammi to the doctor twice and called to get prescriptions for lotion three other times.
She has instructed Sammi not to hug her friends.
“We’ve had that talk,” Keith said. “Kids used to hug her a lot. I taught her not to do that.”
She feels she’s being penalized, Keith said, because other parents may not go to the same lengths and because the school allows children with lice to stay in class.
Neitzel, who used to check his son’s head regularly for lice, understands the feeling.
“These things can be extremely frustrating for folks to deal with, and fairly costly, too,” he said.