The No-Nit Classroom: How Teachers Can Help Prevent Head Lice Outbreaks in School

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It's every parent's nightmare: hours of combing nits out of hair strands, spending money on bottles of lice shampoo, and trying to combat recurring cases of lice that their kids pick up from school. Without some precautions in place, lice can spread between children like wildfire. As a teacher, there are some things you can do to help keep the kids in your class from getting infected with head lice. 

1. Send out notices at the start of the school year.

When you send home your typical start-of-the-year documents like classroom newsletters and curriculum outlines, send home a flyer about illness and health problems and inlcude a section on lice and what a parent is to do if they notice their child has head lice. Classroom policy can be that any child with lice is to stay home until treated, and assignments and homework can be done at home. Be prepared to offer packets of work for the child and his parents to complete while he or she is out of the classroom.

2. Remind parents at parent-teacher conferences.

You might notice that one or two children are the ones carrying the bugs to school and starting the spread of the lice infestation. Confront these parents at conferences and inform them of the issue. If they do not come to set conferences, telephoning the parents or sending a notice home can help. Some parents who work outside of the home might not keep their child home because they cannot take time off work. These obstacles are difficult to overcome, but you could suggest alternatives, like having the child complete treatment in the nurse's office while the parent combs nits out at night.

3. Have strict no-sharing policies.

Lice can spread easily with the sharing of hats, mittens, brushes, combs, or even coats and scarves. Have children bring their own items from home, and never allow sharing of these items during class time. Have all students remove hats, even if your school does not have a no-hat policy, and allow for separate cubby areas for keeping things. You could also have children keep their coats and hats zippered inside their book bags. If there is a community coat rack where children's clothing touches, discontinue the use of the rack as soon as you realize there could be a lice problem in the school.

4. Learn some prevention techniques and employ them.

Since lice crawl onto heads, you can encourage parents to keep boys' (and girls' if possible) hair short. For long-haired students, keep a bag of hair bands in your desk. For girls who come to school with their hair unbound, you can help them by putting hair in a quick braid or tight bun before class begins or during recess. It is harder for lice to spread to hair that is bound up. 

You can also purchase large Ziploc bags for kids to store things like hats and scarves. These keep items separate from other students' things, but the bag, when sealed, can kill any lice that might be crawling on the clothing. During a school outbreak, instead of keeping desks in "buddy groups" where kids have their desks clumped together, put desks in "testing formation" so that there is ample distance between each student work space. 

Discontinue the use of bean bag chairs, pillows, or other similar lounge spots in a reading corner or play nook, as these are common areas where a student could contract lice after their heads come into contact with the items. 

These are just a few ways you can keep your students focusing on their lessons instead of scratching their scalps. For more information on lice treatment, contact a professional in your area.