Parent launches petition criticizing head lice policies in Comox Valley schools

Nearly five years after a petition garnered over 500 signatures on the issue, a parent is once again upset with how the Comox Valley school district addresses head lice among students.

Crystal Tinsley, the mother of two young daughters at Queneesh Elementary, started a change.org petition on May 15 calling for School District 71 to change how it responds to head lice.

SD71 changed its head lice policy approximately 10 years ago, according to Record archives, following consultation with parents and teachers on the issue. Since then, schools no longer send students home if they have lice, nor do school officials perform head checks during an outbreak.

Read More: Parent launches petition to combat head lice in Comox Valley schools

“When I was back in school, they did frequent checks, they sent a letter home letting you know your child had lice and to not let them come to school until the child is treated. They no longer have that,” said Tinsley.

Head lice has been a school-wide problem at Queneesh Elementary this year, said Tinsley, who believes the district’s policies are partly to blame.

“Probably on average, three times a month I’m getting a letter sent home with my daughters saying ‘a child in your classroom has lice’,” she said.

“[The Queneesh office is] telling us to contact the school board because the teachers are in agreement that this is not right.”

Tinsley said dealing with head lice has become an expensive problem in her home, where she’s re-treated her two daughters multiple times this year.

She said the stigma among children of having head lice is also an issue.

“No one wants to play, kids are picking on other kids and bullying them and making fun of them. That’s not good for their emotional well being,” she said.

Educational approach

SD71 communications co-ordinator Mary Lee said the school district takes an “educational approach” to head lice, with policies aligned with the Canadian Paediatric Society, the National Association of School Nurses, and the BC Centre for Disease Control.

“The district ensures parents are provided with information regarding checking for head lice at home, as well as treatment options, so it’s a shared responsibility between schools and parents,” said Lee.

Head lice prevention and treatment guidelines, as well as information on how the disease is spread and its symptoms, are also available on the SD71 website.

“Our policy we’ve adopted is that we will never prevent a child from coming to school because of head lice,” said Lee. “Island Health deems that lice is nothing but a nuisance and is not a public health concern.”

Lee added that SD71 also encourages Comox Valley teachers to talk to their students about the stigma of head lice and to remind them not to share hats, combs, helmets or other garments that allow lice to transfer between students.

Free kits

Trish McPhail, the treasurer for the Queneesh Elementary Parental Advisory Committee (PAC) acknowledged that head lice is an issue at the school, but believes it is an issue at other schools as well.

She said the Queneesh PAC recently created free treatment kits for head lice with combs and conditioner, which can be picked up from the school’s main office.

“With this particular issue, we wanted to go a step further than what other schools are doing and lead the way by offering free kits and support, so kids don’t have to miss extended school time for something that can be contained if you have the right information,” she said.

McPhail said she is aware of Tinsley’s petition, but said she agrees with SD71’s stance.

“The school board is supportive and clear in how everything is handled. They recognize it’s a nuisance but not a health issue,” she said.

“Asking families to keep their children home for extended periods of time is unrealistic, especially in blended family situations.”

As of 8:15 a.m. on May 16, Tinsley’s petition has garnered 53 supporters.

Comox Valley parents Shaunna Powers and Lisa Gillespie started a similar petition in 2013 that amassed 509 signatures.

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