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Head lice

Lincoln Public Schools students with head lice will no longer be sent home, a policy change in line with a 2010 American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation.

The 1998 policy required students to stay home until the infestation was gone.

“Unfortunately, kids would miss school for multiple days when they didn’t need to,” said Marge Theel, supervisor of LPS health services.

In 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its recommendations.

“Head lice are not a health hazard or a sign of poor hygiene and, in contrast to body lice, are not responsible for the spread of any disease,” the AAP wrote in June 2010. “No healthy child should be excluded from or miss school because of head lice, and no-nit policies for return to school should be abandoned.”

Despite the recommendation, LPS’s policy remained until this year, primarily because Theel was new to the position at the time and the office was short-staffed.

But in January it pulled together a task force that recommended the change. The task force included health department and extension representatives, entomologists, administrators, nurses and social workers.

The new policy will keep students from being singled out and will help reduce absenteeism, Theel said.

Other districts, including Omaha Public Schools, have changed their policies without problems, Theel said.

“Even though we delayed this a little bit, we have a benefit of knowing it doesn’t cause an increase in the incidence of lice,” she said.

Less than 1 percent of LPS’s nearly 37,000 students have head lice in a given year, Theel said. Between September and January of last year, LPS reported 290 cases and 72 of those were repeat cases, she said.

Head lice don’t hop or fly and rarely are transmitted in a school setting, Theel said.

Head lice primarily are transmitted through head-to-head contact more likely to occur at sleepovers, camps or large family gatherings. And by the time children begin to show signs of head lice, they have likely had the infestation for about a month, according to the pediatric academy.

The new LPS policy says parents of a student found to have lice will be notified and educated about treatment, but the student will stay in school. School staff will check students with head lice, and re-check them again in seven days once no live lice are found.

Students won’t be excluded if they have a second case of lice, but could be excluded after the third incident.

Reach Margaret Reist at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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