Seymour schools changing policy on lice

New rules allow students to stay in classroom, based on recommendation from state

Students at Seymour Community Schools won’t have to be sent home if they are found to have head lice after a change was made to the corporation’s policy Tuesday.

The decision left at least two school board members scratching their heads in confusion.

Trustees Jeff Joray and Stu Silver voted against the new policy, which gives the ultimate decision on whether to send a student home for lice to the school nurse.

“Legally, that is the only person who should be making a medical call on whether a student should be at school or not be at school, unless of course it’s an emergency medical situation,” Superintendent Rob Hooker said.

The change comes as a recommendation from the Indiana State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said.

In March, school nurse coordinator Sherry Reinhart requested the policy be updated to reflect new guidelines on lice and other insects, including bedbugs, that can cause infestations.

In the past, students with lice have always been sent home immediately, which led to too many students missing instruction for weeks at a time because parents were not taking care of the lice at home, Reinhart said.

Those students should be allowed to return to the classroom after a school nurse has combed all of the visible lice out of their hair, she said. Parents would still be notified and have the option of picking up their child right away. Reinhart did not attend Tuesday’s meeting.

Hooker said when lice are discovered, they already have been in the child’s hair for a minimum of 20 days, meaning other children already have been exposed. So sending a child home does not prevent an outbreak, he said.

The proposal didn’t sit well with some parents who attended the April school board meeting to voice their concerns. One parent suggested that Child Protective Services should be contacted if parents are not treating the lice at home.

But Hooker said Tuesday that wasn’t an option.

“Family Services does not want us to involve them,” he said.

Hooker said lice is not an illness or communicable disease and therefore should not be treated as one.

Silver, a retired teacher and coach, said lice may not cause kids to get sick, but it is communicable and causes problems at schools.

“Have you ever been in a classroom where kids have lice?” he asked. “It spreads around.”

Joray said he didn’t feel the board received answers to questions posed earlier this year about the proposed change and didn’t understand why nurses even checked for lice if students weren’t going to be sent home.

By not following the guidelines, Hooker said the corporation would be “disavowing” a practice put into place by a higher authority on the subject.

“I don’t know if I would recommend you do that,” he said.

Trustee Nancy Franke, who teaches at a Lutheran school in Bartholomew County, said in her experiences when students had lice, it usually was within their family because of shared bedding and clothing. If other students contracted lice, it was because they had been over to that person’s house, not because they were in school together, she said.

Tony Hack, principal at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School, said lice is transmitted through head-to-head contact or the exchange of head gear.

“In all of our schools, we separate their stuff most of the time to prevent it from spreading,” he said.

By not checking for lice, Hack said the schools wouldn’t be helping students and families solve the problem and move forward.

In his nearly 15 years as an administrator, Hack said he has never seen an outbreak of lice prevented by a child being sent home.

“It’s easy to blame schools for the problem, but most of the time, it’s not our classrooms,” he said. “It’s the day care. It’s the household.”

That’s because eliminating all traces of lice or bedbugs is a challenge and takes time, he said.

“I’ve had lice in my house, and as a parent, it is an unbelievable task to take care of all the cleaning, all the hair combing, all the nitpicking and then have to do it again 10 or 12 days later because there are already eggs there that are going to hatch that you haven’t taken care of,” he said. “That’s what I know about lice.”

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.