Should I keep my child home from school?

I want everyone to take the problem of head lice seriously. Just because I do not endorse the use of pesticidal shampoos, that does not mean that I downplay the seriousness of it. Everyone should give this problem the time and the effort it deserves. That said, should a child with head lice be kept home from school?

The schools say "maybe". I contacted a representative from the Edmonton Public School board to find out their official policy. I was told that they follow the guidelines of Alberta Health Services. I asked what those policies were and, more specifically, if a school could send a child home or refuse a child admittance to school due to head lice. The answer was, "It depends". I contacted Edmonton Catholic Schools and the person I spoke to didn't know of any official policy in place regarding head lice.

If you would like to know the suggested school guidelines of Alberta Health Services, you can find them here. In these guidelines, it states that the parents of the child with head lice should be notified. It then states, very vaguely, that "The child can return to school once the head lice has been treated."

This statement is open to interpretation. What do schools define as proper treatment? Some schools may require you to wash the child's hair in a pesticidal shampoo. Some may require the removal of every live bug, and others may require the removal of all nits. One thing you can be sure of - if a teacher finds that your child has head lice, the school should not be calling you to pick up your child immediately - AHC's document also states that "the child may remain in class until the end of the day."

My opinion? I think that if you deal with it properly, head lice should never be a problem that causes your child to miss school. I think that if you show the school that you are taking your child's head lice problem seriously and have made a concerted effort in both lice removal and infestation prevention, then the school authorities should not (and possibly can not) refuse to allow your child in the classroom. However, if the school finds that a child or family is constantly crawling in head lice, or has an inordinate number of re-infestations, they may question any claims of the parents who say that they are dealing with it effectively. At this point, the school may contact other authorities, such as Child Protective Services, to help you to deal with the problem.

Would I send my own child to school if one morning I discovered that he/she had head lice? Probably. I need to go to work in the daytime and I save my sick days for when there is an actual illness in the family. (If I didn't have to work outside the home, I might keep my child at home - but understand that this is a preference and NOT a necessity.) I would first use my proper metal lice comb to quickly comb out as many bugs as possible. I would also pick out as many eggs as I could before school started. Then, I would put my child's long hair up in a ponytail or braids and remind the child not to share hats, brushes, etc. I would then inform the school that my child had head lice and tell them how I am dealing with the problem. Then when the child returned home, I would spend a fair bit of my evening dealing with the problem more extensively - checking, combing and picking until not one egg or bug could be found on my child's head. I would budget time into the next morning to repeat this process.

My children have had head lice. (Again, they bring it home from school because I don't bring my work home with me) . Because I do a very quick head lice check as part of our DAILY routine, I am always able to "nip it in the bud" - it is a small problem that I am able to deal with quickly and effectively. And if you do this too, then your child should never be in a position to miss school over the inconvenience of head lice.


Anonymous said...

A typically stupid point of view from a silly person. If your kid has head lice you have no right to knowningly put your child in a situation where my child can be infected. Period. Full stop. Get a grip. You and your offspring are not the center of the universe. The problem is yours and you have no right to expose my child to the inevitable result of your self-absorbed delusion that the rest of us must pay for your choice to not take time off work to deal with your children's healthcare issues.

Cathy, the Nice Lice Lady. said...

I truly understand your point of view but contrary to your opinion, the condition of basic head lice is NOT a health issue. No disease is spread through head lice. For this reason, no major health authority in the world recommends a school no-nit policy. In fact, many recommend against it. That said, in Alberta, our health authority recommends that affected children should be treated with a lice "shampoo" and then says, and I quote from their lice brochure, "That's it-you're done." Now this is truly silly because studies show that these pesticides are becoming ineffective and all of my business comes from people who have tried the pesticides. Therefore, parents who treat their infested children with just a “shampoo” and then trot them back to school are sending them back to school with an active infestation.

The reason I say that head lice shouldn’t keep a child home from school is because there are ways it can be controlled before school starts. Regular lice checks will prevent a major infestation and if a parent discovers lice on their child's head, a proper metal lice comb can remove the bugs (which are the only transmittable threat). In my own family, I check my kids for lice while they are getting ready for bed. That way, if were to see something, I would have time to deal with it before school in the morning.

Like you, I also go a bit crazy when I see parents who have not taken the time necessary to deal with the problem. If you read the other articles on this blog, you will see how many times I emphasize that a parent NEEDS to give this condition some serious time and energy. However, the problem usually isn't that the parents are not acting responsibly. It usually exists because these parents don't have the correct information. ALL of my business comes from people who thought that the pesticidal shampoos would solve the problem (because that is what the school/pharmacist/doctor recommended). And so, they keep sending their still-infested kids to school after what they think is an effective treatment. It is sad for everyone and very unfair to the other parents who put in the time to get better informed and deal effectively with head lice.

Another sad note, some parents don't have many options when it comes to head lice. One single mother called me to say that when she chose to stay home from work because of her daughter's head lice, she was fired. Because head lice is not a health issue, this woman can't take it up with labour relations. And, most parents have at times sent their children to school with colds or flus which are real health issues and somehow the staff in our schools understand. While head lice is a big pain in the behind, it is still not a health issue. To treat head lice as if it were a disease that required quarantine only spreads paranoia and misinformation.

I understand your frustration, and obviously you have had to deal with this problem, but I encourage you to read more information on the subject. Thanks.

freddi said...

just read about this. link here:


Anonymous said...

I just kept my girl home for 2 weeks bevcause the school kept sending her home. I've done everything they've asked me to. This is crazy I don't think they know what they are even looking for. She didn't miss this much school when she had the flu.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anonymous. First, The National Pediculosis Association supports a “no nit” policy as a public health standard for kids in schools. Further, a “No Nit” policy is currently being used by many public and separate school boards. Also, while head lice doesn't spread disease so to speak, lice CAN cause skin irritations and rashes that can develop into bacterial infections. Bacterial infections due to lice IS a real health issue. Frankly, I find it offensive that you would even consider sending your child to school knowing the ramifications. The cleaning and laundering for a large family can be excessively time consuming and costly. The infected child can feel a sense of shame and culpability. Head lice is psychologically debilitating and socially alienating for young children. It is the negligence of parents like you who perpetuate and cultivate the lice epidemic we see in grade school. You shouldn’t be on your soapbox preaching to others about behaving in a remiss manner. You should be more concerned about how your thoughtless actions affect the lives of other families. Shame on you.

Anonymous said...

As you profit from lice infestations, you should temper your comments. Being a proponent of children going to school with lice is simply profiting from another's misery.

Cathy, the Nice Lice Lady. said...

Thank you for your comments. You have obviously had to deal with the frustration of head lice and I can understand why you hold these opinions. The NPA does promote a no-nit policy but there is research to show that this surprisingly does not actually reduce the cases of head lice in the schools. A no-nit policy may be a measure that just appeases parents but does not actually deal with the problem.

As for profiting from head lice, unlike so many lice removal providers, I sell no products, nor do I receive any revenue from my blog. I do receive a fee for my removal services. However, as anyone who has called me knows, and as I have shared time and time again on my blog, I first encourage callers to deal with head lice on their own. For every home visit that I do, there are at least five callers that I convince NOT to bring me in. I always tell people that they really do not need my services. What they need is information, and I freely give that over the phone or on my blog.

As for the expense of cleaning and laundering, with the exception of things that come in direct, regular contact with the head, this really isn't necessary. Again, the research shows that excessive laundering or cleaning does not increase your chances of getting rid of the problem or decrease your chances of re-infestation. Head lice do not spread like a virus. As human parasites go, head lice are probably the best ones to be dealing with. Unlike scabies, head lice are not microscopic, unseen and under the skin. Unlike bed bugs, they cannot live in your furniture or floor boards without a meal for a year. Head lice need the exact temperature and the blood of the human scalp. Period. So much of what so many believe about head lice is just based in fear and simply not based in truth.

Regarding the rare health issues that can come from head lice, it is very uncommon for someone to scratch a head lice bite so much that a major wound is caused and I have personally never seen a case where someone developed impetigo from an infected head lice bite. I have seen infected mosquito bites but the health authority in my area has somehow not stopped school kids from having outdoor recess (which would be silly and excessive, of course). I have seen someone have an allergic reaction where their lymph nodes were a bit swollen because of the extreme case of head lice, but the condition was remedied with a doctor prescribed dose of Benadryl. Head lice itself is not considered health condition and the rare health issues that correlate with head lice are treatable.

And then we come to the shame of head lice. I’ve worked with a lot of children and do you know who perpetuates the shame of this condition? Most often, it is the parents. Kids are not always as cruel as you think. It is when a child is noticeably sent home from school for weeks at a time that the child starts to feel singled out and inferior. We need to stop treating children with head lice as if they are untouchables. What I get frustrated with is school boards that tell parents that a pesticidal “shampoo” will solve their problems – ALL of my business comes from people who have first used such “treatments”.

We should never underestimate the resiliency of the head louse. It is a bigger problem for the human race now than it has ever been – even with all of our technological advances, we have not found a single, no-fail solution to this problem. (Correction - bald people do not have head lice!) When we have head lice, we have to be persistent, diligent, and we must deal with the problem every day until we are certain it is gone away. The way to do this is by using techniques that are actually proven to work (preventative wet combing and detection, lice and nit removal, directed warm air) and we should not waste our time and money on techniques that have been proven to have little or no effectiveness (removal from activity, pesticidal shampoos, excessive cleaning and laundering).

Thanks again for sharing in these important conversations.

NoodleNoodle said...

If it is really something that puts our kids in danger, then why are we even risking it at all - just SHAVE THE HEAD!

It is not a risk. It is just headlice (Still gross.)

What is "directed warm air"?

Cathy, the Nice Lice Lady. said...

Regarding directed warm air, you can use your hair dryer as one tool in your fight against head lice.

Check out my blog post about this:

Alexis said...

Both my steo-daughters have lice right now. My youngest has very thick hair and so many nits I just can't get out. My oldest has very long hair but it has not been near as difficult with her. We have used the pesticidal shampoo and then either crisco or vegetable oil on their hair for at least 4 hours every day followed by a washing, combing, and hair drying. I haven't seen any more actual lice on them and my oldest is almost clear of nits by my youngest is still just covered in them. Her skin is also very irritated due to a sunburn she got on the camping trip with mom that she picked the lice up on. Are there any other things you can recommend? Also, I attentd college for Massage Therapy and they are concerned about me potentially spreading it so I have stayed home the last few days. I really cannot afford to miss more school and I haven't found any lice in my hair yet. If it's really safe I would much prefer to go back.

Cathy, the Nice Lice Lady. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

A child is not at risk of spreading head lice if the mature bugs are off the head. Baby bugs cannot leave the head until they are more. You can comb out the mature bugs easily with a fine tooth comb. Send children to school.

K. Mozley said...

I am sorry, but I believe if your home is clean and your kids are clean, you will not have constant reinfestations of lice. I can understand getting it once, treating it, and being done with it. If you have to start and end your day by picking bugs out of your kid's hair like a monkey in the jungle then you are just nasty. The only kids I have personally known to have constant lice: 1. Drug addicted mother who neglected child and cleanliness of home. 2. Another family whose house was disgusting with roaches everywhere - so many the roaches were in the kids' backpack. 3. An alcoholic mother with about 11 kids and their house was always in total disarray. I might add that yes, lice can be a health issue - I ended up getting lice from sitting on a cloth couch at a public health department and I was highly allergic to the bites. My lymph nodes swelled on my neck and I had to end up going to the doctor! So it can be a health issue - they are INSECTS and BITE.

Cathy, the Nice Lice Lady. said...

@K. Mozley
I truly understand your belief, but I'm sorry - my experience and the research doesn't support your view. I've gone to many, many immaculate homes - even million dollar mansions - with responsible parents and clean kids who were dealing with head lice on a regular basis. In the examples you gave, the people you mentioned were neglectful in all areas and the head lice remained, not because the house was dirty, but because they didn't give the head lice the time and attention that was needed. If a family is dealing with addictions or trauma in the home, head lice will be the least of their worries.
Generally, head lice are not a health issues. Like mosquito bites, they are itchy and annoying but for most of the population, do not pose any health risks. In a number of my blog posts, I have mentioned those rare cases where a person has an allergic reaction and gets swollen lymph nodes. Your experience is very unfortunate, but it is also uncommon. Many doctors simply prescribe an over the counter antihistamine to manage the allergy. I have seen more people allergic to the lice "treatments" than to the lice themselves.
I am assuming that you are a clean person, and yet you got head lice. This should reinforce the idea that clean or dirty, head lice can happen to anyone.

Cathy, the Nice Lice Lady. said...

I welcome input from other lice professionals. However, please do not promote your products on this blog.

muffin 1234 said...

I just found out that I have head lice and I'm 16 and I don't know how I got it I haven't shared my brush, clothes, hats or hair ties with any one , any way If I gave some one a hair tie they never give it back to me ! They always lose it ! So tonight I was using a metal nit comb and OMB I thought I didn't have many but OMG I have so many when I told my parents I had head lice all they keep saying was "get away from me" and "where did you get them" its not nice but they came to understand its not my fault and tomorrow I am going to the chemist to buy some shampoo ! So excited to get rid of these disgusting bugs!ewww!

Cathy, the Nice Lice Lady. said...

I am so glad that the metal comb revealed the size of your problem. Remember, lice are not a virus - if you just remove them from the head, your problem is solved. I know that's not as easy as it sounds but it is possible. You have seen a bit of the effectiveness of the metal comb. I encourage you to continue to use the comb to remove the bugs. Don't just trust whatever you pick up from the chemist. Do the work of the combing. Check out other posts on this blog for wet combing tips.

As for wondering where you got it, you may never know. Maybe you got lice from your parents! If they are in the same house as you, you should encourage them to use the comb to check themselves out too.

Good luck.

Lily Hopper said...

Can dandruff develop after many treatmwnts? I've used metal combs and the Robo Comb whixh claims to zap all nits and lice. The robo comb barely zapped, but at this point we are on week 6. I ha e not seen live lice in 3 weeks. This is a vague claim considering they are very hard to see. I only see white specs. No black specs. No walking critters at all. When I run the comb the white specs get left behind. When I scratch her scalp, more white flakes come down. She's still very itchy. Dandruff or lice? Why won't they comb out?

Cathy, the Nice Lice Lady. said...

Yes, I have seen this often where people have irritated their scalp with too many so-called treatments or over-combing and this can lead to dandruff. I'm really glad you haven't seen any live lice in a long time. Wonderful! I can't say for sure what the white specks are, but if the white flakes that come down off the head when you scratch the scalp look the same as the specks you see on the head, it is likely that it is dandruff. Lice and nits are always uniform in shape. Nymphs are the same shape as adult lice, but they are just a bit smaller. And nits are always the same oval shape. At this point, I would give your scalp a break and probably just do a really quick lice combing once every week or so, just as a routine measure to ensure it's not a problem. I haven't had head lice in a very long time but I still do routine lice checks via wet combing every month or so. And the more you let your scalp rest and let your mind get back to your daily life, the less you should be itching.

Sometimes, the eggs shells that are left on the hair after the lice have hatched are harder to comb out. They don't look pretty but at least they are not a threat. Any eggs that you find away from the scalp are old and also not a threat. Viable nits and bugs should be able to be combed out with a good lice comb (which also makes me think you are probably not dealing with nits). Make sure you comb right from the scalp. As for the Robi-Comb, I've been to many combs where it was used faithfully but they still had lice.

So, switch to routine lice checks through wet combing every week or so and rest for the other days. Of course, if you find a new bug, start combing more frequently. Or if you find out that head lice is being spread throughout your child's class room or if you find your child is still very very itchy, even after you have give the scalp some rest, you should do a wet combing check right away. And, if you still have itching after a long time or any other concerning symptons, talk to your doctor.