BY O.J. EARLY
A shift to a more lenient head-lice policy in the Greene County School System has given some parents the creeps.
The policy change canceled the no-nit policy, meaning that children with lice eggs (nits) will not be sent home and can remain in school, Greene County Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk said.
The shift in policy, supported by Kirk, still doesn't permit students with live lice to attend classes.
The Greeneville City School system still remains under a no-nit policy, Director of Schools Dr. Linda Stroud confirmed.
"This is something very serious that I think we should take very seriously," Stroud said.
"We really don't have a lice problem in the city. I don't want to do anything to loosen that up and cause a problem with head lice."
THE NEW POLICY
Suzanne Price, RN, system nurse for the Greene County School System, provided a summary of how the revised head-lice policy works.
* A "Head Lice Information for Parents" sheet is sent home with each student at the beginning of the school year.
* If a child has live head lice at school, a guardian must come get the student.
* A child may return to school when a guardian brings a note stating the child has been treated for head lice.
* The child is checked by a school nurse or principal's designee and must be free of live lice.
HOW LICE IS FOUND
There are no mass screenings of students for lice, she said.
"Looking at it throughout the system, head lice is not a big problem," Price said.
If parents suspect a child has lice, they can call a school and let a teacher know that a child may have head lice.
"Some parents aren't aware of what lice looks like," Price said.
Teachers are taught to catch the first signs of head lice, she explained.
"Teachers walk around through the classroom all day," she said. "We make teachers aware that, if they see any evidence of nits or bugs, or the child scratching their head ... we send the student to the nurse.
"If there's no nurse in the school, we send the child to the office.
"There's always someone who can check, or the principal calls us (school health services)," she said.
A parent or guardian must still come and get a student if the child has live head lice.
KIRK: MANY POSITIVES
Kirk said the policy change, approved by the Greene County Board of Education and in place since early 2012, has many positives.
Lice is an "icky" topic, but it poses no "significant health risk," the director of schools said.
"I think anything that keeps kids in school and doesn't threaten their education is a good thing," she said. "It handles the issue without unduly punishing the student or family."
Kirk's reasoning for supporting the shift: the new policy keeps students from missing class and shields children from embarrassment.
"No students will be denied an education because of lice," she said.
SOME PARENTS UPSET
Kirk said the county school system has received complaints about the more tolerant approach to nits.
"People don't like it when lice is in the classroom," Kirk said. "But our policy still says that you have to be free of lice. They have to have been treated and have nothing live."
KaShira Jackson declared her disapproval on Facebook.
"As a mother of a child in county schools, I am upset because of this change," she wrote. "Live or nits -- they have to start somewhere, and all should be treated to help keep it out of schools."
Libby Hensley Scott has a first-grade daughter in the county school system.
Scott's child hasn't had lice this year, but was told incorrectly by a school nurse in October that her daughter had lice.
"You can get lice from someone at Walmart, or the grocery store. No need to be embarrassed, mad or upset about it," she wrote.
"It is a part of life, not only for those of us with kids, but for those of us who work in healthcare, a factory, anywhere really."
She added: "As far as the policy goes ... I think all schools should have a 'no-nit' policy."
Here are some quick facts about lice and similar policy changes in other school systems, reported first by the Associated Press.
* The American Academy of Pediatrics changed its guidelines in 2010 to recommend that schools dealing with head lice follow a policy of not excluding students who are infested.
* The National Association of School Nurses changed its position in 2011, advising that children with live head lice should stay in class but be "discouraged from closed direct head contact with others."
* The National Pediculosis Association in Massachusetts opposes the more lenient policy on lice, arguing that the change enables the bugs to spread.