A new law took effect in Texas on September 1, 2017, requiring elementary schools to notify parents of every child in a class where a student has been found to have head lice.
The law, Senate Bill 1566, requires schools to notify parents of the affected child within 48 hours once a nurse or administrator determines or becomes aware that the child has head lice. The notice is required to include recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to treat and prevent head lice.
This means that Texas schools will no longer send home children with lice or require them to stay at home until they are lice-free. Instead, parents will be advised to check and/or treat their children for lice.
The policy is based on the priority of keeping kids in class, as head lice do not spread disease and are not considered a serious health problem. The National Association of School Nurses and the National Academy of Pediatrics support the state’s policy.
The policy is not without controversy. Many parents oppose it, assuming that allowing children with lice to remain in school will inevitably lead to more cases of head lice throughout the school year.
“I could bring my kid home tomorrow with head lice, and go out and spend the money or whatever to get rid of it, and if they’re not sending kids home with it, she’s just going to come home again the next day with the problem all over again,” a parent told News Channel 10 in Amarillo.
School officials disagree. “Academics are very very important, and because it’s not a communicable disease, there’s no reason for children not to be in school,” Amarillo Independent School District’s Director of Health Programs, Brenda Adams, told the station.
“Healthy students make better learners,” Debi Mills, healthcare coordinator for the school district in Wichita Falls, told News Channel 6 in that city. “Our job as school nurses is to keep students in the classroom.”
Another concern is the possible administrative burden of notifying every parent within 48 hours of the detection of head lice. There is some concern that if lice outbreaks become more common—as many believe will happen since lice are becoming resistant to the most common recommended treatments—sending letters to every parent in every classroom where lice are present could be difficult.
Lice Clinics of America, the largest network of professional lice clinics in the world, supports the stay-in-school policy, and is an advocate of the de-stigmatization of head lice. The clinics offer a revolutionary lice treatment using an FDA-cleared medical device that is clinically proven to kill live lice and more than 99 percent of eggs (nits) in a single treatment that takes about an hour.
Pedro Gonzalez, manager of a Lice Clinics of America treatment center in El Paso, told KFOX 14 that he says he thinks the letters home to parents are a good idea. “Not many parents are going to be checking their heads if they don’t know,” Gonzalez said. “A letter could instigate parents to check their child’s head.”