Bugs and Gaps- what’s the connection?
So what do bugs have to do with gaps? Maybe quite a bit. When I started in school nursing, I came across lists that a savvy former nurse had kept regarding follow up for students diagnosed with “live lice”. Her record-keeping was quite telling. Children were being excluded from school for weeks at a time, the school bus would refuse to pick them up, and there weren’t enough nurses to do all the checks so there were really no guidelines as to who was diagnosing the children. I imagined her frustration as she had to deal with the issue day in and day out. Why were these practices so telling? At the time, the district had one of the highest dropout rates in the state. I couldn’t help but believe that had a lot to do with the way kids were made to feel about school early on.
Anyone who has been subjected to standing in a room full of kids having their heads checked, and then later asked to go home from school can understand the dread associated with these practices.
Does it happen this day and age? Absolutely. Scan the internet for policies related to head lice in school districts and see what practices exist. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics and Harvard School of Public Health have been quite clear regarding the harm of no-nit policies and school exclusion for head lice, yet districts continue to send children home.
If you look at the children in your classroom or school struggling academically, often they are the ones with the most obstacles to overcome. That’s why the identification of “gaps” even exists. Those families living in poverty often end up living in close quarters with other extended family, sharing rooms and beds and have circumstances where lice is easily transmitted from one child to the next. Sometimes getting treatment is difficult, and since lice are often resistant to the products Medicaid and CHIP insurances are most willing to cover, the problem is not easily corrected. Parents are then often accused of neglecting to care for their children.
I had a parent (a local minister) call one time wanting to know what I was going to do to take care of the “lice problem” at his daughter’s school. In conversation I found the “problem” was that his 6 year old daughter was telling him a girl in the class had head lice and she wasn’t being treated. His complaint was that the district did not have a “no nit” policy to make sure his child wasn’t exposed. I explained to him that the school nurse would do follow up with children who have lice and his daughter would not know that he/she had been checked. I also explained that nits cannot be passed from one person to the next. His response? “I don’t want my daughter around THOSE children!” (Also bear in mind he was getting his information on what was and wasn’t being done from the perspective of a 6 year old!!)
In our jobs there are just “children”. Children who all deserve a chance. When we set them up to miss school repeatedly, we set them up for failure. When they fail, they become a burden to local resources in our communities and the cycle is perpetuated.
There is a way to deal with head lice, using national guidelines and science. It doesn’t mean ignoring the issue altogether- it means following up in a way that helps resolve the problem. It means taking a look at other practices that might be impacting the gaps in our schools and finding new approaches to intervene. The most basic of which is not looking for ways to keep them out of the classroom.
I find it helpful to use a flow chart to help keep on track with students that have ongoing issues with lice. The flow chart allows a nurse to document what treatments have been utilized, along with what teaching has occurred for parents. It won’t cure the issue- anytime children are together in one place (and can put their heads together) we will have head lice. But it can help ensure proper treatment and support for children to be where they learn best, in school!
A copy of the flow chart mentioned above can be found at:
Lice is often to blame for high emotion and distress. Hold firm to your mission of advocating and supporting all children. Follow the guidelines and remove barriers which can help in your work to reduce gaps in the children you serve.