Duluth School Board mulls ways to nip lice infestation in the budParents and teachers asked the Duluth School Board on Tuesday to change its notification procedure for lice and to ramp up prevention education.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
Parents and teachers asked the Duluth School Board on Tuesday to change its notification procedure for lice and to ramp up prevention education.
Currently, parents are notified when three or more cases in a classroom are discovered, but school nurses have discretion to notify at any time. Parents, teachers and the president of the Duluth Parent Teacher Student Association asked at the monthly education committee meeting for notification to come after one case is discovered.
“If gone unchecked, it can spread to others needlessly,” said Bonnie Cannon, president of the Duluth PTSA. “No parent looks forward to the work or expense connected to mitigating lice.”
Parents shared stories about the large number of students this fall found with lice through community clinics and how difficult it was to rid their children of the pest, not knowing if they had a particularly resistant type or if it was transmitted again upon returning to school. Students can remain in school with lice, but parents have the option to keep their children home while being treated.
Longtime Congdon Park Elementary teacher Mary Ann Harala said students often braid or touch each other’s hair or work in close contact in small groups, which is why she likes to talk with kids about how lice is spread. When she had a couple of cases of lice in her classroom recently, she sent a note home to parents and was “called on it,” she said.
“I was unaware of the procedure,” Harala said, which had been changed in the last few years.
“I want open discussion with kids,” she said. “Let’s make this not such a scary thing to have in life.”
Lori Saari, a registered nurse at Congdon Park and Ordean East Middle School, said a lot of misinformation has been spread recently about the amount of head lice in schools. She called lice a “public nuisance” and not an “epidemic.” The district follows recommendations set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
the Minnesota Department of Health and the American Academy of Pediatrics when dealing with lice, Saari said.
“In school, transmission is extremely rare,” she said, noting lice do not jump or fly and there hasn’t been an increase of it in Duluth schools since 2007. She and other nurses contend that sending a letter home for one case in a classroom can lead to identification of the child and unneeded public alarm.
Parent Peg Sutherland, a child psychiatrist, said she understands stigma.
“Sending home an anonymous notice in the classroom does not identify or stigmatize a child,” she said.
Parent Stacey Dimberio pointed out that many parents might not report when their child has head lice since it’s not required, so district statistics probably aren’t accurate.
Schools send out information about lice prevention at the beginning of each year, and in monthly newsletters.
Jason Crane, assistant director of special services, said he and the district’s nurses would meet to talk about ways to increase education about preventing head lice, including advocating for parents to check heads once a week.
Board Chairman Tom Kasper said he would like to see the notification procedure changed.
“As we heard from teachers, and especially with younger children, the opportunity for lice to transfer from one to another is so rapid I would like to see us modify our procedure,” he said.
Superintendent Bill Gronseth said he would like nurses to be able to have the discretion to send notices when they see fit, so one isn’t going out Monday after one being sent the Friday before, for example.
The board also heard from nurses about adopting an immunization policy. Camille Murphy said that 15 percent of elementary-aged students and 25 percent of middle school students aren’t immunized. Most districts in Minnesota have policies saying you can’t attend school without immunizations save for a legal exception, Crane said.
Duluth doesn’t enforce such a policy, said Murphy, a registered nurse with the district, noting that past immunization clinics held at schools had little participation.
“We sincerely believe if we adopt this policy it will impact compliance in our schools,” Murphy said.
Gronseth said if the board chose to adopt a policy that said students couldn’t attend school without first getting vaccinations, a transition plan would be needed.
“We’re not telling a few hundred kids they can’t come to school,” he said.