By James McEvoy, Special Writer
LAWRENCE — In the coming months school district officials will craft new school policy after a recent lice outbreak revealed inconsistent practices that in some cases allowed students with active infestations to return to the classroom.
At the Dec. 9 Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Crystal Edwards revealed lice was found in Ben Franklin Elementary, Eldridge Park Elementary and Slackwood Elementary that raised questions about district policy and procedures.
“The question came up: What is the practice and what was the practice and what we should be doing? I can’t go back and undo time, I can’t change last week, but what I can do is communicate where we are and what we’re going to do going forward,” Dr. Edwards said.
If a student is discovered to have active lice, a parent or guardian will be contacted to take the child home and begin treatment. Head lice, according to kidshealth.org, is a tiny parasitic insect that can infect the scalp, especially in children. Highly contagious, they can be treated with a medicated shampoo, lotion or rinse, according to the website. The lice do not spread disease, according to the site.
“That is our practice, now is that in our handbook as of today? No — it’s not on our website, but that is the practice that we are following and I do know that was followed this week,” she said.
Prior to returning to the classroom, students will be re-inspected to ensure there is no active lice present. If there is, according to Dr. Edwards, the parent will again be contacted to re-treat.
Unlike some districts, Dr. Edwards said students will be permitted to return even if lice eggs or “nits” are discovered and that the child would be “periodically” examined to ensure there isn’t a re-infestation.
“We are not excluding children from school if they do not have active lice,” said Dr. Edwards, citing an incubation period of the nits that could take several days, if not longer. “I’m not subjecting any student to missing that many days.
“Our goal really is to keep all of our children in school for the maximum amount of time, but to also make sure that children are treated,” she added. “We do not want to ostracize any student.”
Luann Kildea, a renal dietitian who has four children in the district, said she and other families pulled their students from class upon learning there was practice in place in which at least one student had returned to the classroom despite having active lice.
“I found this not only disappointing, but disturbing,” Mrs. Kildea said. “There is no uniformity or checks on how the individual schools were implementing the practice until a concerned parent brought it to the attention of a superintendent.”
She was further critical of the fact that apart from a small number of parents, the public was largely unaware of the incident or inconsistent practice until the board meeting.
Mrs. Kildea also called for a district-wide investigation of health practices and procedures.
“We need to be assured that the district’s health policies are uniform and are actually being practiced,” she said. “This time it was lice … what if it was the flu or hepatitis? This was a serious health error.”
Board member Glenn Collins urged parents to examine any new proposed lice policy closely.
“If you’re not happy with what they come up with, you need to voice your opinion,” Mr. Collins said.
Mr. Collins further questioned current practice, including what would define “periodical” for follow-up exams for students found to have nits.
It’s the second time in two months that controversy spurred the district into addressing its policies. In October, school officials began reviewing and updating transportation regulations after a parent criticized the district’s response after a communications snafu.
A parent said his daughter and wife were approached by two strangers — who unbeknownst to them had been contracted by the district — saying they would be taking over the student’s bus route.
Though the family had received a brief note regarding a route change, the father said there was no indication the change would involve a third-party transportation party.
According to district officials, standard operating procedures have been reiterated to staff and new protocols have been created — including a new compliant and concern tracking system and updated procedures regarding third-party vendors.
By James McEvoy, Special Writer