Burbank Unified is reviewing its head lice policy after a mother appealed to the school board for more conservative rules, especially as class sizes get bigger and more students are crowded together.
Under the district’s current policy, students “shall be excluded from attendance” when their heads have active, adult lice, but the rule doesn’t apply to eggs, also known as nits.
Undine Petrulis, who has three children enrolled in Burbank Unified, appealed to the school board to change the policy to send students home, even if the eggs haven’t hatched.
“With our class sizes now over 30 and with them possibly even going up more, lice is spreading through our classrooms,” Petrulis said. “These eggs hatch. We don’t know when they’re going to hatch. We don’t know when they’re going to be crawling around.”
But officials say they must balance those fears with making sure students aren’t unnecessarily sent home and accrue absences that can affect academic performance.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, “the burden of unnecessary absenteeism to the students, families and communities far outweighs the risks associated with head lice.”
Interim Student Services Director Lee Strong reviewed the policy this week with Burbank Unified’s head nurse Lenora Aguilera.
“We need to clarify — just having only the nits but no lice — do we send that kid home?” Strong asked. “They don’t carry any diseases. However, they’re yucky; they’re creepy.”
In Pasadena, employees report cases of lice as soon as possible, but are allowed to stay in class until the end of the school day, a policy similar to Los Angeles Unified.
In Glendale, sending students who just have lice eggs home midday is determined on a case by case basis.
While those with a few nits may be permitted to stay in school, they will be monitored, said Glendale Unified Health Coordinator Lynda Burlison.
“If someone comes in and they’re completely covered with eggs, they have to take care of it or they will have live lice,” Burlison said.
After the nine days it takes for eggs to hatch, the lice take nine more days to become a six-leg adult the size of a sesame seed.
But sometimes eggs hatch and lice die without catching on to the scalp, where they must feed on blood to survive.
“That’s where it’s very difficult,” Aguilera said, in deciding whether to immediately act and treat children with nits.
Other times, students can be misdiagnosed when “eggs” are mistaken for dandruff or effects of eczema.
“The bottom line is we want to be sensitive to the needs of students, we want healthy students be kept in school, we want to manage lice, absolutely,” Aguilera said.
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