Committee to review WCSD lice policy

RENO, Nev. (KOLO) The Washoe County School District lice policy is getting another look, the first one in 6 years. The announcement was made before the Board of Trustees Tuesday afternoon after the board members received an update on the current policy. Since 2011, the school district does not stop kids from going to class, riding school buses, or participating in other activities, even if they are known to have lice.

"No child should miss any time in school because of lice or nits," Dana Balchunas, chief nurse and Director of Student Health Services for the district said. "It is not a disease. It doesn't harm kids."

The policy came from a committee of parents, teachers, and health officials, and matches recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP recommends children likely have had lice for a month before it's noticed, so keeping children out of school would unnecessarily keep them from their education. That hasn't stopped nearly 6,600 people in the community from signing a petition seeking a change in the policy. The petition, started by a mom with a daughter in the school district, claims there is a major problem with lice in Washoe County schools, and children should be kept home if they have lice.

But Balchunas says the school district is not seeing an increase in lice infestation.

"Kids come to school every day, and that's where they spend most of their time, but studies show head lice is not easily spread in a school because they can't hop, they can't skittle, they can't jump; they really inhabit the human head," she said. "Schools can be a source, but more likely it's at home. Really what we should be doing is educating parents and stakeholders about how to prevent the spread of lice, what they can do, and really they should be arming their children with the tools needed to prevent spread."

Lice can only survive on the human head and need blood. They can't survive on surfaces like bus seats, and Balchunas says it's more likely kids are getting lice during sleep-overs or by getting too close to their friends. She said parents have a right to be concerned, but she doesn't want fear to dictate policy.

"Lice is a reality in schools, and we have kids who come to school every day with head lice," she said. "We probably don't know most of them."

That doesn't mean the district is turning a blind eye. If a child has lice, every parent with a child in that classroom is notified. The parent with the infected child is given information and resources to help eliminate the problem. Parents are then expected to search their children for lice or nits and take appropriate action. However, the district understands that's not always possible for parents.

"Certainly when your child has lice, it is labor-intensive," Balchunas said. "it is icky. It takes time off work. It is expensive to treat. So I'm not saying it's not inconvenient, certainly a nuisance, and we don't want kids sharing, you know spreading lice, but I think sometimes certain families just have trouble getting off work, treating it, buying the products."

Shampoo alone does not kill lice, so it is not a hygiene or socioeconomic problem, but for parents who can't afford the treatment, free help is available. Schools nurses can provide information on the resources available.

An estimated 10-12 million people are infected with lice nationwide each year. Balchunas says it's unlikely lice will be eliminated, but with proper education, the number of people infected in Washoe County can be reduced.

"We ask parents to assist us, to teach kids how to avoid sharing personal items," she said. "We want to hear what parents have to say. We want them to have a voice. But I also think that should be based on science and realistic understanding of how lice are transmitted rather than myth and fear. We don't ant policies that are fear driven."

The new committee will be tasked a little for gaps in the policy and how the district can provide better education. It will again be made up of parents, teachers and other officials. There is no word on when the committee will be formed.