By Allison Jarrell
Student health was a major topic of discussion at Tuesday’s Pierre School District board meeting as board members discussed both the new lice policy and lunch regulations.
Community members voiced concerns that the school district’s updated lice policy is a step in the wrong direction. The policy, which was approved a couple months ago, does not require a student with lice to be sent home. It also does not require that parents are notified if a student has lice in a classroom.
School board president Cari Leidholt and board member Randy Hartmann, both of whom are on the policy committee, have done research and discussed the approved policy with administration, school nurses and Dr. Marty Allison, a local pediatrician.
Mary Fischer-Healy was concerned that her daughter was exposed to lice in a classroom with a child who has had lice for weeks. She said she was never notified, and after hearing it from her daughter, called the school to confirm.
School nurses Shannon Bieber and Jeri Wiebe spoke in favor of the new policy, because in their experience, kids have never transmitted lice to one another while at school. They said that the national recommendations for how to handle lice were changed in 2010.
“The recommendations now are that students should not be sent home with live lice,” Wiebe said. “Statistically, it is very rare that a case of head lice would be transmitted in a school setting, and there’s no medical reason for that. Even though it is contagious, it doesn’t cause illness and it doesn’t spread disease.”
Wiebe went on to explain that it was causing more harm than good. Kids that were sent home were getting behind academically and it was hard on their self-esteem to constantly be sent home.
Currently, students are checked out by a school nurse and a parent is notified if their child has lice. Most cases are resolved overnight, and if a family cannot afford supplies to get rid of the lice, shampoos are supplied by the school.
Riggs high school assistant principal Rob Coverdale said that three children in elementary school missed months of school because of the old policy. During the hundreds of days that those students were in the school, no other child developed lice.
“That was really kind of a turning point for me, because now all of a sudden, the anecdotal evidence that we were seeing at the building level was matching what the medical professionals were telling us,” Coverdale said. “It was a powerful indicator that the policy should be changed.”
Dr. Marty Allison also spoke at the meeting, providing statistics and data on lice. She pointed out that lice can only spread with head-to-head contact, and that a child actually has lice four to six weeks before the symptoms and itching even show up.
“There’s a lot of misinformation when it comes to lice. Getting the facts and science out there is important,” Allison said. “It has a very low contagion risk, which is probably the most misunderstood fact about head lice.”
Board member Deanne Booth noted that perhaps the larger issue is when to notify parents of lice in schools, not whether or not to exclude students who have lice.
Leidholt and the rest of the board agreed that having the school nurses report back in May with lice statistic would help in judging the success of the new policy.
Another topic touched on during the meeting was the controversy surrounding new federal lunch regulations.
Food services supervisor Darrel Davis said that most kids who don’t want to eat extra fruits and vegetables are simply throwing them in the trash.
There’s now a minimum and a maximum calorie limit, and allotting more calories to fruits and vegetables is taking away from grains and proteins, Davis said.
“One high schooler said to me, ‘You know they’re just forcing us to eat unhealthy. We’re getting in our trucks after school and buying fast food.’”
Davis said that the next big fight will be sodium. He estimates that current school lunches contain 1,200 to 1,400 mg of sodium, and the federal goal is to cut that in half by 2022.
If South Dakota schools decide to reject the new lunch regulations, they risk losing all federal funding, Superintendent Dr. Kelly Glodt noted.