Should Policies Allow Lice at School?

Image via Freedigitalphotos/ David Castillo Dominici

 I don’t have many memories of being sick as a child. Only a few that really stand out. But one memory I have are the multiple times I had lice. My head starts to itch even thinking about it.

There are several stereotypes about lice. The kid is dirty. The parents don’t take care of them. The list goes on. No I wasn’t a dirty child. Yes I took a bath. The plain truth is – any kid can get lice and I did a few times.

I remember what I went through each time. It was pure torture. Thinking back on it, I can’t even imagine the impact on my mother. 

For hours I’d stand on a chair in the kitchen over the sink. A nit comb in my mother's hand. My neck in pain, and me almost in tears, as she carefully combed the nits (eggs) out of my hair. 

I could hear my mother cursing under her breath, trying not to upset me. I stood there, apologizing over and over, my mother reassuring me it wasn’t my fault, but hers.

Each time she gathered all the clothes, towels, and bedding and took on the endless loads of laundry. I sat at the kitchen table with wet hair, quarantined. My mom yelling from the laundry room that — yet again — she would have to cut my long, beautiful hair.

No matter the precautions my mother took, I would end up with lice again. Another day or two lost at school until they would take me back. Another day or two my mother missed work. Another day I sat over the sink, my neck hurting me, my mother cursing.

Those memories live with me till this day. I’m grown now, and have a son of my own, and I dread the day that I get the call from school saying “Ma’am, please come get your kid – he has lice”. I don’t want to be repeating the same patterns and processes my mother went through so many years ago.  

That’s where this article gave me hope. Traditionally – “… any discovery of live lice in a child’s hair warrants a phone call and immediate removal of the child from school. At some schools, the child may return the next day if the parents have treated the child’s hair.”

{ MORE: Prevent Lice NOW with Tips from the Fairy LiceMothers! }

In his piece, Kois shares his frustration over missing multiple days of work to take care of head lice issues with his daughters. “In schools with no-nit policies, a child can’t return unless every last tiny louse egg has been combed from her hair — and schools may check returning students and send them home if any nits are found.”

A lot of us might react with, “Yeah, that’s right, what about it?”. Well each year, several kids can miss multiple days of school just because of lice. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Nurses, “lice are not particularly contagious, they hurt basically no one, and they’re not a public health risk.” 


With this new revelation, schools in Arlington, Virginia, have adopted a new policy. If a child is found to have lice at school, the parent will be contacted but the child is sent back to the classroom to complete the day. The expectation is that parents are to treat the lice and the child can learn uninterrupted.

Did you just have a little mini-freak out? I know I did when I first read it. Then after a few minutes it made complete sense! 

Carolyn Duff, the president of the National Association of School Nurses says, “If you find live lice during the school day, its likely that child has had lice for weeks. Allowing the child to remain in the classroom for a few more hours is not putting children at risk.”

In my opinion, the less that my child is out of school, the better it is for us both. We already miss enough days for the flu, the common ear infection, or simply regular doctor visits. Having to miss potentially weeks of school (in severe cases) can be traumatic to a child’s academics. 

{ MORE: Don’t Be That Parent – Be Cool to Your Child’s School }

If it’s not a concern for doctors and nurses, why should it be a concern of mine? Duff continues, “It’s not that easy to get lice! They don’t fly. They don’t jump. They can barely crawl through your scalp. They can only spread through head-to-head contact, and children in schools don’t usually have head-to-head contact.” In fact, many experts suggest children are more likely to spread lice during slumber parties or playdates than at school.

Even though lice creep me out, knowing that I won’t be sharing my mother's frustration of having to stay home comforts me.

The article suggests parents have a voice at their own schools. “If your school still sends kids home for lice or for nits, what can you do? Find out who makes the decisions on those policies. Sometimes its a school-by-school choice, which means you can collect all the relevant scientific information and talk to your principal.”

What do you think? Are you a lice/nit free parent, or do you agree with sending the child back to the classroom?

What do you think?

Should Policies Allow Lice at School?

Peyton Pryce has worked in the learning and development industry for the past 11 years - the least interesting thing about her. She is raising a smart, sarcastic and fun little boy. On top of having a full-time job and being a mother, Peyton works hard to support her husband and country as a military wife. Never one lacking an opinion, her friends seek out her advice about parenting, budgeting, cooking, or almost anything. Peyton comes from a large family, with over 11 siblings or in-laws an ... More

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  1. karen says:

    Kids w lice should be sent home and kept home until head has been treated. no one wants to share. Parents should check their kids hair reg.

  2. One of my earliest memories in school.. I think I had JUST started at a new school.. and I was found to have lice. I was placed on a chair in the middle of the classroom, and the other kids were told to not come near me under any circumstance. So here I was, being circled by other first graders, sat on a chair, target of mockery.

  3. Angela says:

    Send the kid home! Why is that so bad? I teach kindergarten and these kids are constantly rubbing heads together, hugging each other ( and me!), sitting near each other on the carpet, heads close at desk time working together, holding hands and heads pressed together at recess. The article’s claim that they don’t really have that much contact in school tells me she’s never been in a school for any period of time or the expert either. I’d go with maybe an age limit. Older kids probably don’t touch as much. But I have long hair and yep I got lice from a student who then spread it to 3 more students before we finally got a handle on our mini epidemic.

  4. Sylvia says:

    I wouldn’t send them home I would keep them in schoolif kid is going to get lyce then there going to get it weather its from school or somewhere else there going to get it we all go threw it sometime in our lives its nothing new all you have to do is go threw a treatment

  5. Jenny says:

    I completely understand the thinking that leaving the child in the classroom a few extra hours when they have probably had the lice for weeks wont make a difference. But what if the parents don’t treat the lice! There are some who should not be parents. Any accidental head to head contact between the children will result in them getting lice. Head to head contact does occur between kids whether we want to admit it or not. I think just deal with the problem before it becomes a bigger one. I got lice once for cleaning up my older sisters messy room- THREE months after she had lived in it. So you can get lice easier then the expert makes it sound.

  6. Laura says:

    Definetly send them home! It is very tramatizing for the children who contract it. Why spread it around? Think about it, it is costly to keep up with the lice if they are obtaining it on several occasions. I know from experience. My sister had her head shaved because of lice. It isn’t fun.

  7. Mari says:

    I think that the child with lice should stay home until the problem is controlled. I had it in the 3rd grade twice, the girl that sat behind me had a very bad case of lice and once they sent her home to fix the problem, it all went back to normal. Out we send our children to school with lice, chances are everyone will get it, they spread super fast.

  8. Cheryl says:

    Although I do agree with the overall idea shared in this article, I know our experience didn’t quite match up with these”facts”. Our daughter got lice 4 times during her kindergarten year. This was because one child’s parent was not very thorough with the washing/cleaning/combing process. Once the school pointed this out the problem was gone. Unfortunately it was quite the ordeal for our daughter. The county health nurse told us some people just seem to be more susceptible. All I know is our own experience.

  9. momof2 says:

    I think the children need to go home.
    Treatments today are SO much easier than years past and even the non-chemical homemade treatments work just fine.
    Keeping them in school and spreading it is ridiculous! Is just as bad as not vaccinating your child… It’s the same principal…
    Keep your kid home and get rid of it, you wouldn’t go into work w/ it would you?
    Think about it that way, how can your child concentrate if they’re scratching and getting picked on?

  10. Brenda says:

    I thank all of you who commented, for your advice and really feel bad that any of you endured any embarrasment or or teasing. I only comment is…. i don’t like bugs of any kind head lice included and i would be very upset if my child came home from school with them simply because the school wanted to spare another childs feelings. what about my childs feelings???????? As for missing a half day of school. who cares are this kids missing some big trig quiz? keep it in perspective!

  11. Rhonda says:

    I say send them home! It’s very contagious they jump from person to person! You take a few families that are inconvenienced to stay home and treat the problem to dozens. I made it to adulthood before I contracted it from the daycare I was working at, while I was pregnant none the less.
    The treatment Are a lot easier these days and a day or so missed of school is pretty easy to make up. With my children’s schools go home policy my children have made it through the fifth grade and still haven’t contracted it!

  12. Sandra says:

    Send the children home Lice spread they mate and lay eggs in the hair and the other children needto be cchecked for Lice.

  13. Nicole says:

    I completely agree with this article. If a child has lice, letting them finish out the day is not going to make a huge difference. Not to mention, when I was a child, you were called out for a lice inspection and if you didn’t return to class, EVERYONE knew you had it. It’s stigmatizing. I heard many of the comments mention the cost and time associated with removing the lice. The BEST piece of advise I’ve ever received was to use baby oil on the hair instead of various lice shampoos. It’s safe, effective and the lice don’t build a tolerance to it like they do the shampoos. The oil suffocates the adults and the eggs. I would highly recommend this approach. I’ve used it on my own daughter and it worked great. Also, Lysol spray for the furniture. No need to get all their fancy (and usually toxic) sprays.

    • AriaClements says:

      Or so you’ll say unit your kid gets lice from a kid in the classroom who was allowed to stay.

      Our hair has natural oils, and no, that doesn’t suffocate the eggs. Since you apparently don’t know how shells of eggs work, they are already waterproof. Baby oil does nothing. Also you can’t just spray your clothing and bedding in baby oil.

      Since you think it’s okay to let infected kids stay in school, if your kid is the infected one, I hope you’re prepared to reimburse the money other families have to spend because you don’t want the inconvenience of removing your actively infected kid from school.

  14. Rochelle says:

    My daughter had lice when she was a kindergartner and had an allergic reaction to the bites, so much so that her lymph glands were swollen. I am sure she is not the only kid that’s every happened to. It took me weeks to get it under control. It’s bad enough that teachers aren’t allowed to tell parents when their is an outbreak in the classroom, but to knowingly let an inflicted child into the classroom to potentially infect another child is just neglectful and irresponsible. Lice outbreaks are expensive both in dollars and time, not to mention the mental health aspect of the torturous phantom lice crawling in your hair for months. These people take lice outbreaks far too lightly. Lice may not carry disease and are not categorized a disease, but they sure do affect many aspects of a person’s well-being.

  15. JaZyrian says:

    Send them home! Hats, coats, nap mats and blankets stored near one another. Kids with there heads together working on little projects; and all kids share their things which is good in some ways but very bad in this instance. I agree with most on here; not fair to other kids or parents.

  16. Rachel says:

    My first thought, if a school isn’t going to pull kids from class if they have lice I want to be informed so that I can pull my kid from school. I had lice once as a kid and I( would really like for my kids never to have to go through that.

  17. Nicole says:

    I think the schools should administer monthly head checks my kid always comes home from school with lice its was in our schools carpets and I think the teachers should have to treat their classrooms also especially with little kids with their centers and couches its rediculous they should also send letters home when a student in the same class was found with some. Their was a lice breakout where I’m from and families weren’t contacted only parents of children who had lice

  18. AriaClements says:

    It takes just a moment for lice to spread from one child to another. Eliminating those remaining hours lessens the time lice has. The cost of YOUR child not having to miss a few hours is that other families may have to spend their own time and money, and their kids possibly missing a day or two, getting rid of lice. In case you don’t realize, you need to wash all bedding and clothing as well as treat the scalp, and since not all families own washing machines, this means many families have to find the time and extra money to go to a laundromat to go do extra loads of laundry. One child missing a few hours of school is far less harmful than the effects of a bunch of other kids having to go through lice treatment and miss school. It doesn’t matter that lice isn’t “harmful.” Neither are bed bugs, or ants, but we don’t expect people to live with pests, especially ones that live on our bodies. They don’t spread any diseases, but they do bite. THEY BITE, which can cause a bacterial infection.

    You need to learn to vet sources of information. Schools have every financial incentive to keep kids in school for every minute. According to the CDC, upwards of 12 MILLIONS kids a year get lice, which means that lice really does spread easily. Yet the school officials, who have a direct incentive, claim the opposite.

    Keep your kid out of school until you treat your kid for lice, and I’ll keep mine home if she has lice to lessen the chance of you having to go through the hassle. I think it’s selfish of you for thinking it would be okay for other kids to have risk of lice because you don’t want to go pick up your ACTIVELY INFECTED child.

  19. vernessa says:

    I am so afraid of my son having lice I have the barber shave him.It costs $500 to remove lice from a kids head at a salon and do not forget about the work at home. The people who are allowing kids to stay in school should be the ones paying to get rid of the lice.

    • AriaClements says:

      Agreed. I think it’s selfish of parents whose kids are actively infected to say that other kids and their families should bear the risk of infection just so one kid’s parents don’t have to pick them up a few hours earlier.

  20. Aleah says:

    When I was a child, I too suffered from live a few times simply because I sat next to a girl whose parents would not treat her for lice…. I was tortured every time due to the simple fact that she continued to come to school with lice. I do not agree with this policy because kids might not have head-to-head contact but they have coats and hats which live can live in. I would not want to send my child to school knowing that there is a chance that this could happen to them with this new policy.. Coming from experience, I would rather the child be sent home immediately and checked in order to return to class. This way my child, like I did when I was a kid, will not repeatively get the lice.

    • E says:

      You are so right… there is a HUGE chance major outbreaks would happen because of this INSANITY!!

      Maybe it is part of a conspiracy to drum up business for the shops opening up that specifically only treat people for lice?! All kidding aside, there are really business for this purpose (I was stunned when I saw one in a very affluent area), it is CRAZY to allow kids in school w/lice.

  21. winnietest says:

    This isn’t about lice or learning…it’s about money! Public schools lose money when students are not in school so the policies are changing to allow children to be in school with lice. As to the wisdom of this change, as someone that spent many years in the classroom I can say that while “experts” may say that lice are not spread easily in the classroom I do not agree, especially in the lower grades. Younger children engage in behaviors that make the spread almost certain and learning suffers when multiple children have lice and as long as there is not a strict “no nit or lice policy” they will continue to have lice with children getting it and requiring treatment repeatedly which is also exposing many of them to entirely too many and too much toxic chemicals.

    • E says:

      I agree that it is CRAZY to allow kids w/lice in school!! I am glad to know someone else has some common sense & gets the real gist of what this is about (money, money, money!).

      I had lice once as a child. I was treated & never had it again, however, a friend’s child had it about 6 times in a few months because of a niece who would visit their house & then their child would get it AGAIN. My friend was at the end of her rope. I can’t even imagine if her niece would actually have used her DD’s things like a comb, brush, hat, etc. how bad it would have been. My friend would get it all cleared up & then said niece would come again, & they’d start from scratch again w/having to treat their DD, house, etc.

      I’d be LIVID if a child w/lice were allowed in school!!

      • Natalie says:

        I agree. I had an episode with lice with my kids that lasted 4 months. My oldest daughter picked it up at girl scout the time we realized she had lice, she was at the severe scratching stage, which means bugs and eggs all over the house. I can’t even remember how many hours we spent cleaning, doing laundry,treating both kids with over the counter medication,and then to prescription medication, and they kept coming back, despite the many hours of combing nits out of their hair. We honestly did not have a life! and this went on for 4 months!! We finally found neem oil at the health food store, and finally after 4 months IT WORKED! The hours of cleaning, laundry and nit picking continued well beyond 4 months. The lice of today have developed a resistance to otc meds and prescription meds and are ruthless. Children hug, put their heads together to do a number of things, including, reading a book, looking at a drawing and searching for worms in the grass to go fishing with..not to mention the hugging. These are childhood rites of passage. YES lice is contagious, and very hard to get rid of, and creates rashes and infections of the skin from the live bugs and meds. Keep these kids out of school until this is taken care of!!

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