By Jacob Mathias
Concern over head lice in elementary schools is common for parents at the beginning of the school year- but Stevens Point school officials say this year’s cases are par for the course.
It’s not uncommon for head lice to crop up in schools; it can affect as many as 10 or more classrooms due to the close proximity of the students in kindergarten through second grade.
The district’s director of elementary education, Dave Lockett, said the number of head lice cases ebbs and flows each year, and this school year has been no different- no better and no worse.
“It’s just part of elementary schools,” said Lockett. “The nurse takes care of it. The parents take care of it…there’s not an elementary school, hardly, that goes through any year without having some level of head lice.”
Kathy Graham, a nurse in the school district, said children affected by the little critters do not need to stay home from school, since lice has proved to spread regardless of the precautions taken. She said they inform the parents, recommend standard treatment of the parasite and a return to school.
Other than staff and the affected student’s parents, no other parties are notified when a child has lice. Graham said the news can be stigmatizing to the child, and cause unnecessary scalp treatments and absences from school for students who might not otherwise be affected.
“We don’t check the whole school,” she said. “We’ve found that those measures over-identify children and we were sending kids home that we thought may have had lice and they were being treated needlessly…if the child is old enough to be in school, they do not need to leave.”
Graham said the procedures the schools follow are in line with what’s recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Nursing.
Karl Bancker, principal of Madison Elementary School, said he sends a letter to parents each year describing how to prevent and deal with common childhood illnesses including head lice, colds and stomach flu.
“Whenever we see it, we want to try and get on top of it as quick as we can,” said Bancker. “We don’t want kids to be spreading that. I know from having one of my own kids having it before what kind of a difficult situation it is.”
The annual letter’s information on head lice reads:
“Anyone can get head lice (pediculosis) – it has nothing to do with cleanliness or poor hygiene. Head lice are small parasitic insects that can be as big as a sesame see and are brown in color. Nits are oval shaped, tiny greyish-white eggs the lice lay on the hair shaft. The first indication of an infestation is usually itching on the back of the head and around the ears. These insects are mainly spread by direct head-to-head contact with an infected person’s hair, but may infrequently be transferred with shared cobms, hats and other hair accessories. They can also remain on bedding or upholstered furniture for a brief period of time.”
- Do not share personal items such as hats, combs, headbands, hair accessories, etc.
- Periodically check your child’s hair for head lice and if you suspect a case, please contact the school nurse or the school office for recommended treatment measures.
- If there is an active case of lice, please consider notifying childcare/babysitters, relatives’ homes, car pool, friends’ parents and after school activities such as scouts, dance class, sports teams (especially if helmets are shared), sleepovers and camps.
If a family is unable to provide or afford proper treatment for head lice, the school will find a way to assist in that effort.
Graham and Bancker both encourage any parents or students with questions regarding head lice to contact their respective school nurses.