el Norte Unified School Board members plan to discuss today if they should allow children infected with lice eggs to stay in class. A similar debate is raging across the nation, from rural schools in Iowa and Kentucky to urban districts like nearby Oakland.

Unfortunately, the question framing this debate misses the point. And so long as districts continue to discuss the stay-in-school policy in that context, problems with lice spreading to other children will continue.

First, there is a good scientific basis for schools reversing the decades-long policy of sending children with lice eggs home. As the eggs attach themselves to hair follicles, the chance of them spreading to other children is extremely low. So with fear overruling reasoning, schools kept infected children from several days of learning. Because of this, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Harvard's School of Public Health all have called for an end to such policies.

But alas, these scientific studies and calls also come with conditions. For example, schools must monitor children with lice eggs and send them home once a hatching occurs, which is when lice easily can spread to classmates. This, of course, requires that an accurate diagnosis is made, which often requires a minimal amount of medical training. In addition, the calls in part presume that the children with lice eggs are being treated at home with the appropriate medications. Further, some of the calls for stay-in-school policies recommend that districts actively work to educate parents about preventing and treating head lice.

The real question school board members must ask is if they are able to ensure that these various conditions can be met. At some school districts, that's apparently not the case. The number of Oakland classrooms in which students have lice has more tripled from last year when a no-nits policy was in place. Locally, anecdotal evidence indicates there's a problem at a Joe Hamilton Elementary classroom.

If school boards are unable to ensure these conditions are met, then the recommendations to end the no-nits policy are meaningless. If that's the case at Del Norte Unified, then it's time to send children with lice eggs home.



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