NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 6, 2006

Education-reform mandates like the No Child Left Behind law are putting a contentious new spin on the issue of head lice, says Robert Tomsho of the Wall Street Journal.

Schools used to take a hard line on head lice, removing infested children from the classroom and requiring parents to take them home for treatment; but these policies are disappearing as school districts face state and federal pressure to reduce absenteeism and boost academic achievement, says Tomsho:

  • Many scientists say that in most cases, by the time lice are discovered only a small percentage are likely to reproduce, and re-treatment in a week generally ends the problem.
  • Since the late 1990s, groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics have gone on record opposing "no nit" policies, saying there is no medical justification for them, but the move to abandon such measures didn't pick up until after the No Child law went into effect.
  • For example, in a Los Angeles Unified School District, children found to have head lice may now stay in class until day's end; after they have been treated at home to kill the lice, they can return to school even if they still have them.
  • Many schools have also stopped sending warning letters to the homes of all students in a classroom at the first sign of lice.

However, each year about 12 million Americans -- the vast majority of them children -- get head lice, and these new policies have sparked opposition from the National Pediculosis Association, which maintains that removing lice eggs is the only safe and reliable way to end infestations, says Tomsho.

Furthermore, leaving lice eggs in children's hair amounts to neglect, and getting ride of no-nit policies is neither prudent nor logical, says Tomsho.

Source: Robert Tomsho, "Kink in Federal Law Is Prompting Schools To Stop Picking Nits," Wall Street Journal, June 1, 2006.

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