A policy review subcommittee of the Milford School Committee is currently reviewing proposed changes to the district's head lice policy.
Judy Dagnese, Director of Nursing for Milford Public Schools, presented the proposed changes to the Milford School Committee Thursday night, and the changes are expected to undergo several readings before a final decision is to be made.
If approved, the changes would update the most recent head-lice policy and would not mandate a student to leave school if a louse or lice were found on his or her head. Under the current policy, students who are found to have lice are not allowed to return to school until they are found to be entirely free of nits, or the eggs laid by the lice, in their hair. The second of the two proposed changes would allow students to return to school regardless if they were nit-free.
"This has nothing to do with my personal opinions; this is completely evidence-based and factual," said Dagnese, who referred to head-lice information that can be found on websites for the Center for Disease Control and American Academy of Pediatrics.
"I followed all of those recommendations," she said. "They are the experts, and they are who we need to follow when making policy. This isn't my policy. I'm advocating what the experts are saying. They're saying that they can be a nuisance, but there is no medical research showing that they spread disease. They are not a health hazard."
Dagnese, who said she has received support on the changes from the Milford Board of Health and the district's practicing pediatrician, Dr. Felix Perriello, has worked with a nurse from the Franklin Public Schools, which implemented the same changes to their district's policy at the beginning of the school year.
"They are non-exclusionary," Dagnese said of the Franklin schools. "They see no increase in incidents of lice, and it has had no negative effect on the health of their students."
But the proposed changes have some parents concerned, including Milford resident Marsha Montgomery, who spoke against the changes at the School Committee meeting Thursday night.
"I felt the meeting went well," Montgomery said. "I think the school committee members were open to hearing the parent views on this issue."
Montgomery said she has been in contact with the National Pediculosis Association, a Newton-based nonprofit that aims to protect children and their environment from the misuse and abuse of pesticide treatments for lice and scabies, which has recommended a "no-nit" policy as the public health standard to keep children free of head lice.
"For me, it's not the 'ick' factor," Montgomery said. "The school needs to be doing all they can to ensure that we are sending them to a healthy environment."
At an informational forum on the policy changes last month with parents, Dagnese welcomed Dr. Richard Pollack, an instructor with the Department of Immunology and Infectious Disease with the Harvard School of Public Health, to speak on the matter. Pollack discussed the matter of lice and highlighted a lack of scientific proof that lice are becoming resistant to over-the-counter treatments, said Montgomery, who pointed to a recent article claiming the opposite by WebMD.
"I strongly urged the school committee to see if there are other scientists out there saying the same thing," Montgomery said. "The nits themselves are hard for them to be transmitted to another student. They are the eggs that are cemented to the hair shaft. It's the bugs themselves that are contagious. One thing Dr. Pollack said during his presentation is that with the nits, there's no way to tell with just the naked eye wither the nit is viable or not. If we can't tell with the naked eye whether that nit is a dead egg or a viable egg, why are we allowing that to come back into the school?"
Dagnese said she understood the concerns and headaches that come with head lice but that compared to other health issues in the school, the matter of head lice is of a smaller scale.
"I understand it's a nuisance for parents, but we have so many other health issues and crises in our health offices now," Dagnese said. "We have children with life-threatening allergies, so many critical illnesses, that we're spending so much time on this small issue."