Head Lice Facts & Procedures

​​​​School Procedures

​When a student is suspected of having lice or nits, please refer the student to the nurse or designated employee trained by the nurse to do such checks for a private, personal assessment. Universal precautions are to be used to avoid transmitting the lice to others.

When a student is confirmed to have lice – the student’s parent/guardian will be notified that day by telephone or by a note sent home with the student at the end of the school day. Provide the parent/guardian information on the care options for treatment. Students should be discouraged from close head-to-head contact with others. Confidentiality must be maintained. After treatment the child should be able to return to school the next day. Encourage the family to remove as many nits as possible. When the student returns to school an adult must accompany the student to the office. A trained designated staff member will check the student to verify that he/she is head lice free. The student should be re-examined 8 to 10 days after returning to school to determine that there are no more live lice.

If only nits (eggs) are found upon inspection of the students head, a telephone call to the parent/guardian should occur to determine if the student has been recently treated for head lice and to encourage the family to remove as many of the nits as possible.

When there are 3 or more cases of head lice identified in a single classroom within a 2-week consecutive period (with no close contact except at school) the whole class may be screened. This screening should take place toward the end of the school day. The screening may take place within the classroom or in small groups in the school nurse office.

Please remember that the first two days of an absence due to head lice are excused, and students should be provided with homework and an opportunity to make up the work missed. The principal will review any absence beyond two days on a case-by-case basis to determine if the absence is excused.

The Tacoma School District has not had a “no nit” policy since the school district Board of Directors approved a policy revision in July 2009 (Policy 3410 – Student Health​). 

If you have any questions, please contact the school nurse.

General Fac​ts

  • No child should be allowed to miss valuable school time because of head lice.
  • Head lice are not a source of infection or disease; they are simply a nuisance.
  • The adult louse (one) is 2 to 3 mm long (the size of a sesame seed).
  • While the louse lives on the head, it feeds by injecting small amounts of saliva and taking tiny amounts of blood from the scalp every few hours.
  • The saliva may create an itchy irritation. With a first case of head lice, itching may not develop from 4 to 6 weeks, because it takes time to develop a sensitivity to louse saliva.
  • Head lice infestation in an individual is likely to have been present 4 to 6 weeks by the time it is discovered.
  • Research supports students with active head lice should remain in class. This poses little risk of transmission to others. Parent/guardian should be notified by telephone or note home at the end of the school day regarding the need for prompt proper treatment.
  • Head lice usually survive less than 1 day away from the scalp and eggs cannot hatch at room temperature.
  • Head lice are not a sign of poor hygiene, dirty hair or lack of parental care. Washing hair does not kill head lice, as they can survive under water for several hours. Anyone with hair – long or short, clean or dirty – can get head lice.

​​​Transmission/Detection

  • Lice do not hop, jump or fly; they crawl. Transmission in most cases occurs by direct contact with the head of another infested individual.
  • It is important not to confuse nits (eggs) with dandruff, hair casts, hairspray droplets, scabs, dirt or other insects. Nits are more difficult to remove because they are “glued” on the hair.
  • The standard for diagnosing head lice is finding a live louse on the head.
  • Schools are not the most common places where head lice are spread and routine classroom or school wide screening for live lice has not been proven to have a significant effect on the incidence of head lice in a school community over time.
  • Head lice infestations have been shown to have low contagion in classrooms.

Trea​tment & Prevention

  • Contact your health care provider as to using either an over-the-counter or prescription medication.
  • Pediculicide spray should not be used. Furniture, carpeting, car seats, and other fabric-covered items can be vacuumed.
  • One of the best ways to protect others from head lice is for parents/guardians to check their own children at home on a regular basis. If lice are found, they need to be treated.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why did Tacoma School District change the head lice policy?
    Both the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics do not recommend “no nit” policies. Exclusion of students for any reason is shown to increase truancy and decrease academic performance. Tacoma Public Schools wants to reduce these barriers and keep children in the classroom.
  • Is it easy to get head lice?
    Head lice are spread by direct head-to-head contact. Lice do not jump or fly. They are harder to get than a cold, flu, or strep throat.
  • Do head lice spread disease?
    No. Head lice do not spread any known disease.
  • Does keeping a clean house help stop head lice?
    Cleanliness has no effect on the spread of head lice. Lice actually prefer clean hair to dirty hair.
  • Do I need to remove every single nit to get rid of head lice?
    Nits that are more than ¼ of an inch from the scalp have already hatched and pose no risk of spreading lice.
  • Don’t most kids get head lice at school?
    School is rarely the source. Head lice are spread by direct head-to-head contact. It is more likely from family members, sleepovers, or close playmates.
  • Can head lice be spread from hats and helmets?
    Head lice are not often spread by hats or helmets. Hairbrushes and bedding are more often how they can spread.
  • Why doesn’t our school do head lice checks on all children?
    Head lice rarely spread at school. Taking time out of the school day to check for head lice takes away from important instructional time. Routinely checking your family members and close friends is more effective.
  • Should I treat everyone at home if my child has head lice?
    Only the person with live head lice should be treated. Lice shampoos are insecticides and can be dangerous for people if used too often. Check every member of your household for head lice and only treat those who actually have lice.
  • Can my pets get head lice and then spread it?
    Human head lice only infect humans. You cannot give your pet head lice and pets do not carry head lice.
  • Should I use a bug bomb or insecticide on my home to get rid of the lice?
    Do not spray insecticide in your home or on clothing. These can be dangerous to people. Head lice that fall from the head will die by the next day.
  • Can nits that have fallen out of the hair hatch and then spread to another person?
    Nits are “stuck” to the hair shaft and very difficult to remove. They do not fall off the hair. Once a nit hatches the larvae must find a human head or it will die within hours.

Read the research/reference information