February 28, 1997 in Nation/World

These Moms Are Real Nit-Pickers School Volunteers Battle Outbreaks Of Head Lice

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Spring fever isn’t the only thing plaguing Silver Valley students once the weather turns warm.

A group of nit-picking mothers in Osburn and Wallace is preparing for yet another season of exterminating a semiannual grade-school infestation - lice.

Every spring and fall, children run an increased risk of coming home with scalps crawling with tiny parasites.

A few Silver Valley mothers know firsthand; they’re volunteers who examine students’ scalps each month. Sometimes, they check every two weeks.

“They almost go through a child’s head hair by hair,” said Howard Reasor, principal of the elementary schools in both Wallace and Osburn. “I can’t believe it.”

The mothers enforce the schools’ “no-nit policy.” If any child has lice, he or she has to head home.

“The school district is taking it more seriously than it used to,” said parent volunteer Minde Beehner.

Head lice are as common in schools as the common cold, and the problem seems to occur every year in the Silver Valley. But the lice outbreak now pales in comparison to previous years.

When Beehner’s oldest child was in kindergarten six years ago, 13 of 20 students in the class had lice, she said. Mothers then voluntarily began checking the kindergarten kids themselves. When the fed-up parents hired a lawyer and pointed out that the state views lice infestations as contagious diseases, the school district enacted its “no-nit policy.”

Now, Beehner and others check the scalps of every child at Osburn and Wallace elementary schools once a month. If there’s an outbreak - which always happens in spring and fall - they check for lice every two weeks.

“I know a lot of kids’ heads,” Beehner said.

“It doesn’t bug me as much as it used to, … (but) when you find a kid and see the little buggers crawling around, you start scratching all day.”

Finding the lice isn’t always easy. “Unless you part the hair and see the things run, you don’t see them,” Beehner said. Instead, she looks for the eggs, or nits. They can be found attached to the shafts of hairs.

To the untrained eye, they look like dandruff or blobs of hair spray. “I’m pretty good,” Beehner said. “I can tell just by looking at it.”

Things are much better these days. Beehner guessed the schools - with a combined enrollment of 317 students - suffer only about 30 cases each year.

Principal Reasor remembers when it seemed that just about everyone had lice.

A few years back, some children were teasing others who were being sent home because of lice.

He took them aside. “Everyone who has had nits, raise your hand,” Reasor told them. Eighty percent raised their hands - including Reasor, remembering when he was growing up.

“It has nothing to do with filth,” he said. “Little kids get them more often just from the way they play. They crawl all over.”

At Osburn Drug, lice-fighting shampoos are a constant seller all year. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be in spring,” owner Dale Lavigne said. “There’s no set time or place or anything else.”

Once in a while, the store runs out of the medicated washes. Usually, though, Lavigne is prepared for an outbreak.

Kids get lice from swapping hats, even from throwing their jackets into a pile during recess. Lice are hard to get rid of because they can live on clothes, beds, “everything,” Reasor said. “Right down to your teddy bears.”

Beehner suggests bagging up stuffed toys and placing them in “the deep freeze” during spring - that should kill the lice.

But until the problem is completely arrested, the lice police will remain on patrol.

And they’ll wash well after every shift.

“We normally all come home and decontaminate,” Beehner said. , DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Human lice

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