Saturday, April 20, 2024

If your child had been exposed to lice, Virginia schools don’t have to tell you. Here’s why

Every parent dreads their child coming home with tiny critters crawling in their hair, commonly known as lice.

But students could be exposed to lice in the classroom and parents might not even know about it.

“It would have to be (the school’s) policy about sending and not sending letters home to students,” said Larry Hill, Virginia Department of Health Eastern Region public information officer.

Head lice is an insect that will feed on the human blood several times a day and live close to the human scalp, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While they are not known to spread disease, lice can cause severe discomfort because of the itching they cause. In some cases, itches can lead to excessive scratching which might increase the risk of a secondary skin infection.

“Head lice are hard to see because they are very small, avoid light, and move fast,” according to the VDH fact sheet. “It is easier to see their eggs (called nits), which resemble dandruff.”

Those creatures are most common in elementary-age children, with an estimated six to 12 million infestations each year in the U.S. from children ages 3 to 11.

In the schools

York County School District does not maintain statistics on incidents of lice because there are no reporting requirements from the state either by parents or by the school, said district spokeswoman Katherine Goff.

If a student is suspected to have head lice, the parent is contacted and the student is sent home for treatment, Goff said.

In York County, schools don’t send home a notice about cases of lice unless there are two or more students reported to have lice, Goff said.

“An individual student in a classroom would be considered an isolated case, same as with the flu,” she said. “When more than one student in a classroom has active (head lice) at the same time, the nurse could theorize that there was a chance it was not an isolated incident.”

According to the VDH, “No-nit” policies, which bar children with head lice until their treatment is over, are not generally necessary. Students can return to school after their first treatment.

“The nurse is able to verify treatment when checking the student upon their return to school,” Goff said. “If there has been no treatment or the treatment has been ineffective, we resume the process.”

According to Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools’ head lice control guidelines, students are checked by a nurse for viable nits, which are lice eggs, every week for three weeks after treatment until it is determined the student is no longer infested.

WJCC spokeswoman Eileen Cox did not immediately respond for comment.

In most cases, head lice is spread from head-to-head contact. Schools in York County try to discourage students from sharing fabric materials, such as hats and jackets, to prevent the spread of lice, Goff said.

In WJCC, students with head lice are not allowed to ride the school bus until it is confirmed they are not a risk, according to the district’s website.

But some cases of lice are spread through common areas that have fabric, according to the CDC, such as couches or beanbag chairs.

“Due to the low risk of (head lice) being spread through furniture or carpet…the division’s standard daily cleaning practices remain in effect,” she said.

Goff said while furniture provided by the school is generally non-fabric, teachers might provide pillows, blankets or other classroom items that have fabric and could retain lice.

Teachers with those items are expected to regularly launder them.

Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at

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