Recently, the state of New Jersey has changed its official policy about head lice. Previously, the state endorsed the notion that children impacted by head lice should be removed from the classroom and not allowed to return to school until they were free of both lice and nits. These recommendations are no longer endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the American Academy of Pediatrics (APA). Instead, both of those organizations recommend treatment and prevention, but do not mandate removal of an impacted individual. What complicates this issue is the fact that the National Pediculosis Association recommends removing children with lice from group environments until completely cleared of infestation. The controversy is not limited to these national organizations. For example, in the Flemington- Raritan school district, school nurses and the district medical inspector had to struggle with the policy committee to shape a school lice policy that they felt was based on science, rather than the fear-based policy that previously dictated school lice policies.
Where does that leave school in New Jersey? That is a very good question. The reality is that there is no single school lice policy for the state of New Jersey. Instead, individual school districts develop their own school lice policies and there are 590 operating school districts in New Jersey. Furthermore, private schools may have lice policies that differ from those of the public schools in the same geographical area. There are over 1,400 private schools in New Jersey. What that means is that there are over 2,000 possible school lice policies in the state. Therefore, parents who are unsure about their school’s lice policy should contact the school nurses for their children’s schools and ask for information on the school’s lice policy.
Most districts in New Jersey follow the guidelines established and endorsed by the CDC and the APA. Those guidelines suggest that children who are infested with lice do not need to sent home early from school, but that parents be notified of infestation on the same day as discovery. Parents are advised to treat the child and infected children are re-inspected until cleared of lice. Not all children in the classroom are notified of the infestation, but the parents of children who are in close contact with the impacted child are notified and those children are inspected for infestation. This lenient policy can lead to massive outbreaks that can last for months, even years. The schools generally do not recommend preventative treatment for children who have been exposed but are not afflicted.