Should a school take action over a child with persistent nits?
The mother of a special-needs boy with persistent head lice supports the school's move to shave his head.
The 9-year-old Hornby Primary School pupil has battled repeat lice infestations since before Christmas, despite frequent treatments.
Last Friday, when more head lice eggs were found, the school rang the boy's mother and asked if it could shave his head.
The Ministry of Education has called the move "very unusual".
Its guidelines state that schools cannot treat or even closely inspect a child's hair for the infestation. Inspection, detection and treatment are the role of parents.
But the mother has supported the move. "They rang me up and asked whether it would be OK if his hair was cut. I did not have any issue with it; they had my permission."
She said the teacher aide, who had worked with the boy for nearly four years, was trusted by her son and the family.
She said her son sat calmly while his head was shaved and now declared himself to be "handsome".
However, the boy's grandmother, who contacted The Press, said she was "absolutely livid" at the school's actions.
It was not its job, she said.
"Since when has a teacher aide become a hairdresser?" she said.
The grandmother said she cared for the boy for several days each week and had been dealing with his head lice since he was about 3 years old.
The latest head-lice infestation dated before Christmas, and no matter how often she tried to treat it, the lice returned once he went back into his mother's care.
He had the head lice so regularly "he calls them his animals", she said.
She said she asked the school to have the boy sent home to force his mother to deal with the infestation once and for all.
The next time she saw him, his head was shaved. He looked like a "poor little waif" and was now marked as having head lice because of the "drastic" move.
"I am absolutely livid. I was in tears when I saw him on Sunday," she said.
"The principal said the school's policy was that children are sent home, so that's what I was asking them to do. There's no way I would have expected them to cut his hair off."
The boy's mother said she had used head-lice shampoo weekly, combed his hair with a lice comb, repeatedly washed his sheets and hung the pillow cases in the sun, but the lice kept returning.
"It's an epidemic," she said.
Principal Gary Roberts refused to speak to The Press, saying it was a matter of confidentiality.
He said the school had "quite clear guidelines" in dealing with head lice and stuck to those "rigidly".
Told that ministry guidelines state it was only the parent's role to treat the infestations, he did not respond.
The school's August 22 newsletter asked parents to check their child's hair regularly for head lice and to treat it appropriately.
It also offered parents the loan of an electronic nit-comb to treat their child's hair.
Ministry deputy secretary of regional operations Katrina Casey said that while she could not comment specifically about the case, treatment was usually seen as a parental responsibility.
"It is possible that a school may develop and implement a procedure for managing the control of head lice, but it would be very unusual for school staff to treat head lice either by chemical treatment or the cutting of hair," she said.
LICE AT SCHOOL
Education Ministry head-lice guidelines:
Schools are allowed send a child home who may have a communicable disease, which includes pediculosis (lice).
It is not the role of the school to conduct mass head inspections, treat children or give expert advice in this area. Inspection, detection and treatment are the role of the parent. The principal must make all reasonable efforts to tell the board, the parent, and the medical officer of health that the pupil has been precluded and why.
The board must have the matter looked into and cancel the preclusion once the principal is satisfied the pupil is well enough to return to school. Be sensitive to the emotional safety of all children who are suspected of being infested and of the other children in the class or school.
Understand that clumsy handling of a suspected infestation could not only upset a child but could also result in social repercussions, including bullying of the child by others. Be aware that any close head inspection beyond a cursory visual inspection requires parental consent and carries professional risk. Any full inspection and treatment is the responsibility of the parent.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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