Parents question how Knox County Schools are handling head lice

Parents question how Knox County Schools are handling head lice cases

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Crystal Larrimore frequently combs through her daughter's hair checking for lice. She says her daughter has had it twice this school year. Crystal Larrimore frequently combs through her daughter's hair checking for lice. She says her daughter has had it twice this school year.
"It's really itchy, and she scratched to the point that she had sores. I mean large sores with scabs in her head," said Crystal Larrimore. "It's really itchy, and she scratched to the point that she had sores. I mean large sores with scabs in her head," said Crystal Larrimore.
Knox County Schools says the district used to have a no nit policy, meaning students with active lice, or any evidence of eggs, were not supposed to be in school. They took that policy out two years ago. Knox County Schools says the district used to have a no nit policy, meaning students with active lice, or any evidence of eggs, were not supposed to be in school. They took that policy out two years ago.
Connie Cronley, an epidemeology nurse at the Knox County Health Department, says lice aren't considered a health threat, but they should be treated. Connie Cronley, an epidemeology nurse at the Knox County Health Department, says lice aren't considered a health threat, but they should be treated.

By KAYLA STRAYER
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Are head lice a problem in our schools? A number of 6 News viewers contacted us to say yes.

They say it's mainly because of the way Knox County Schools are now handling lice cases.

For several weeks now, we've been talking to parents and school officials about how best to deal with lice. That really depends on who you ask.

On one hand, many parents say it's not only a health threat, but a huge financial burden. They don't think students should be allowed in school if they have active lice, or nits. 

However, school officials say it's not a health threat, but more of a nuisance. They say as long as students are being treated, they should be in school.

Crystal Larrimore frequently combs through her daughter's hair checking for lice. She says her daughter has had it twice this school year.

"It's really itchy, and she scratched to the point that she had sores. I mean large sores with scabs in her head," said Larrimore.

The mom of five says she's spent hundreds of dollars and countless hours treating her family, but she's worried her daughter might easily get lice again at school.

"They wouldn't check the classroom. They didn't want me to keep her out, even though she had bugs in her hair. They didn't really want to do anything about it. I kept her home anyway and treated her and got rid of them again, sent her back to school with a note," she said.

Larrimore isn't the only concerned parent. Hundreds of people weighed in on our 6 News Facebook page.

Amanda Goins writes, "One of the biggest issues is that Knox County does not see lice as a health threat, only a nuisance. Unfortunately, because they refuse to notify parents of an outbreak, it's easily passed around continuously."

Kerry Roe Howerton writes, "One of the problems is that Knox County now does not send kids home for lice and nits. They don't want kids to miss school for it."

We took these concerns to Melissa Massie, who is in charge of student support services with Knox County Schools. Massie says the district used to have a no nit policy, meaning students with active lice, or any evidence of eggs, were not supposed to be in school.

They took that policy out two years ago.

"The guidelines that were given to us by the Centers for Disease Control really indicate that it's not an immediate health threat. It's something that we definitely need to communicate with parents. We need to provide the education they need for treatment, but that it's not unsafe. There's not a reason for them not to be in school," said Massie.

Massie also says the schools don't generally check students for lice.

"If you see a student that has excessive head scratching or complaining about itching around the neck and head, then there might be a reason for the school nurse to take a look. But as a general screening, again the CDC says that's not an effective measure, and that's not a practice that we have," she said.

If lice are found on a student, Massie says school staff will call that student's parents, let them know about different treatment options, and even provide the treatments if needed.

Larrimore, who works as a nurse, says she doesn't think that's enough to protect her daughter.

"My daughter would scratch and scratch and scratch. She had blood on her fingernails. As a nurse, that scared me because I think well she could get secondary infections," said Larrimore.

Connie Cronley, an epidemeology nurse at the Knox County Health Department, says lice aren't considered a health threat, but they should be treated.

"It's obviously a nuisance thing. They're not known to carry any diseases. However, when folks do get this intense itching on their scalp, they can break down that scalp skin and get a secondary infection from the other bacteria that live on our skin. So you can get into a little bit of a problem sometimes. That's why you should get it taken care of," said Cronley.

Cronley says lice aren't a reportable condition, so it's hard to tell just how big the problem is in a given year. Gabriela Gagnier, educational director at the Knoxville Institute of Hair Design helped answer that question.

"Usually every year in the springtime, it really develops. It's usually an epidemic. When they come into us, we're definitely on the lookout so that it can be dealt with and taken care of," she said.

She was surprised to learn that Knox County Schools took away the no-nit policy.

"Oh I didn't know that. No that's not a good idea, because children they play close, they are always in contact with one another."

Knox County Schools officials say it's up to the individual schools to determine if an absence for head lice will be excused or not.

Lice guidelines vary in Tennessee, depending on each school district. Many of them are based off of advice from local health departments and the Centers for Disease Control.

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