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March 9, 2018
The very mention of the words “head lice” can send a person scratching their scalp.
But these tiny bugs can cause more than irritating itching. They can hurt students’ attendance or even their grades.
A student cannot come to school unless the pests and their eggs are gone. Meanwhile, valuable classroom time is lost. But a new program at Polk County Public Schools is hoping to cut down on such absences.
The district’s social workers have created Healthy Hair Kits to help combat head lice and get students back into the classroom.
The kits were made possible by a district initiative called TASSEL (Teamwork Achieves Student Success and Encourages Learning).
In 2016, the social work department began the TASSEL program to get donations and help fulfill the basic needs of students. Some students required clothing, shoes and school supplies. Others lacked alarm clocks to get up in the morning — or even comfortable bed sheets for a good night’s rest.
Social workers took note that head lice was taking some students out of school for extended periods of time, said Shannon Gillespie, senior manager of Social Work Services.
“The social workers would go out to the home and notice that the families were not able to battle the head lice because they didn’t have the proper (treatment) products for their students,” Gillespie said. “And so the social workers just had a lot of concerns. How can we help these families?”
Using approximately $1,750 through a non-renewing grant and donations, social workers began stockpiling items that a family must have to exterminate the little pests, and they are arming parents with information and tools to cut down on absences.
“This has been a huge step in the right direction, and they feel that they can actually help break down this barrier so that the students are getting back quicker,” Gillespie said.
Each Healthy Hair Kit comes in a resealable plastic bag with a brochure on the “Five Step Battle Plan” to treat head lice. The other items included in the kit can be purchased at most grocery stores: a bottle of olive oil, shampoo, shower caps, hair clips, large black trash bags and a lice comb.
Purchasing all of these items during one store visit could total more than $20, Gillespie said. The cost rises if more than one child needs the treatment and more supplies are required.
“If they have more children, they are looking at even doubling that amount,” Gillespie said.
However, each of the district’s Healthy Hair Kits cost less than $5 to build because items are bought in bulk and while on sale to take advantage of reduced prices. The kits are given free-of-charge to students’ families who need them.
If applied correctly, the kit’s olive oil treatment will work, said Robbin Chapman, a registered nurse with the school district. The olive oil applied to the hair will suffocate the lice, but it must be repeated every four nights over the course of 21 days to make sure all eggs are gone.
Special head lice shampoo – which can be toxic - is not necessary to get head lice under control, she said.
Steps also must be taken to make sure various items in the house are cleaned and free from lice to avoid another infestation, Chapman said.
Head lice can occur at any age or grade level, but it seems to be more common in elementary schools, where students often share combs, barrettes, hats, and headphones, she said.
There is a stigma associated with lice, but they like clean heads more than dirty ones, Chapman said. They don’t “jump” or “fly” from person to person.
“Head lice is not a communicable disease,” Chapman said. “It is not a serious health concern; it is more of a nuisance. Head lice is very easy to treat – if you treat it the right way. ”
Over the last two months, 250 kits have been created to help parents treat the problem the right way. Social workers have distributed about 50 of the kits thus far.
“We are looking for more grants or more donations to help assist us in the future,” Gillespie said.
Those wishing to make a donation or share information about grant opportunities can contact Gillespie at firstname.lastname@example.org or (863) 534-0024.
Parents who need a Healthy Hair Kit for their student can visit the school’s clinic and request one.