Get the lowdown on school lice policies in the Annapolis area

liceAnne Arundel County Public Schools average 500 cases of lice a year, but the schools no longer have a "No Nit Policy."

Instead, the school system has a "No Live Lice Policy" in keeping with recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Nurses, according to Karen Siska, a nurse and director of the School Health and Support Bureau of the Anne Arundel County Department of Health. The change is meant to limit the number of students excluded from school and the duration of school missed, she says.

"Lice are a nuisance, not a health hazard or a sign of poor hygiene, and they do not spread any diseases," Siska says. "By the time we find them, lice have been on a head for days, weeks, even months. It's not worth freaking out about and sending kids home. Unless there's direct head to head contact, other students won't get them."

If students in Anne Arundel County schools are found to have lice, they can stay through the end of the day but parents are notified and the students cannot return until they have been treated with an over-the-counter or prescription insecticide shampoo, according to the policy.

Nits — lice eggs attached to the shaft of the hair — are often misdiagnosed or do not necessarily mean the presence of live lice, especially if they are more than a fourth of an inch from the scalp, Siska says. "It's unfair to exclude children for this," she says.

Calvert County schools, meanwhile, still adhere to a No Nit Policy, according to Donna Nichols, a nurse and supervisor in Student Services responsible for all school nurses. Students are sent home from school if lice are found.

"We try to keep exclusion for nits to a minimum ... but in this county, people go into immediate panic with the word (lice)," she says.

The number of cases of lice in Calvert County schools seems to have increased over the last couple of years, Nichols says.

Instead of alerting the whole school when a case of lice is detected, both school systems work on their own form of triage. Siblings are checked. Nurses at other schools are notified if a sibling attends another school. And anyone who has been in close contact with the student is also alerted and checked.

"School is not where this happens most of the time," Siska says of contracting lice. "It happens at home, at sleepovers or when sports helmets are shared."

Tips to avoid lice

Want to avoid this nuisance in your house this school year? Here are some precautions to take from Siska and Nichols.

  1. Don't share combs, brushes, hats, hair ties or any other personal items.
  2. Avoid dress-ups or costumes at school or anywhere else. "Dress-up clothing in kindergarten is just not a good idea," Siska warns.
  3. If your child has used a helmet or been somewhere with dress-ups, be conscientious. Check periodically for lice.
  4. Don't rely on sprays that imply they help prevent lice. They are not effective, Siska says.
  5. It is not necessary to routinely screen your children for lice unless they have been exposed or they have been itching and you suspect they might have lice.

There is no time of year when lice are more prevalent, both nurses agree.

"They are not seasonal, they are just here," Siska says. "I can't believe they can't just eradicate them."

For tips on getting rid of head lice visit the Anne Arundel County Health Department website.