My son, who attends public school in Brooklyn, has had lice more often than I can count. When he gets them, I get them -- adding to the physical indignities of middle age.
So I was grateful when a group of public-spirited parents volunteered to regularly conduct schoolwide lice checks. But my gratitude turned to dismay when the school administration emailed parents a letter from the city's Department of Education explaining its lice policy. The letter is misleading and the policy is misguided.
The department has instructed schools that children with live lice in their hair be sent home, and have parents keep them home until they are bug-free. The letter says the policy is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Nurses. Actually, the position of those organizations is the opposite.
The American Academy of Pediatrics states on its website that "a healthy child should not be restricted from attending school because of head lice . . . Children can finish the school day, be treated, and return to school."
The National Association of School Nurses agrees that lice "should not disrupt the educational process. No disease is associated with head lice . . . Children found with live head lice should remain in class, but be discouraged from close direct head contact with others."
The professional organizations note that kicking children out of school could stigmatize them. As well, school absenteeism is a serious problem for many kids and communities.
Besides, actual sickness disrupts parents' work lives enough without adding unnecessary absences. While lice are irksome, they are not a threat to public health.
I wrote to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, explaining this. I also wrote to Dr. Cheryl Lawrence, medical director in the Office for School Health. No one has responded.
Some parents find lice upsetting and find keeping the infested parties home an appealing solution. But the AAP notes that kicking kids out of school doesn't do much to curb the spread of lice because most cases develop outside of school.
School health policy should be based on science, not hysteria. And the science contradicts the DOE's policy.