KHON2 has learned a new policy on dealing with students who have head lice or ukus in school will be implemented in all public schools starting next year.
We were the first to report concerns after some schools sent letters to parents, telling them all students will remain in school, regardless of the presence of lice.
Not only will affected students be allowed to remain in school, but schools do not have to notify all parents about the problem.
It’s getting strong reaction from parents who are worried that keeping the kids in schools will get others infected.
And if they’re not notified about the problem, parents say that makes the new policy even worse.
The letter has drawn a lot of angry responses, even though some of the schools haven’t sent them out yet.
If a student has head lice, his or her parents will be notified. But if they can’t pick the child up, then the student goes back to class. Other parents in that school might not even be aware of it.
“I think that’s horrible. I think everybody should be aware of what’s going on,” said parent Sheena Biton.
“It’s important for them to know, because then it will give a chance for them to check their kids here to make sure it doesn’t affect their household,” said parent Roz Fautanu.
We brought this up with Holly Kiyonaga, principal of Palolo Elementary School, which has had its share of infestations with head lice.
She says the policy means well, but in the end, principals will wind up dealing with problems on a case-by-case basis.
“If it comes to a point where the child is uncomfortable and it’s to a point where they’re just not going to tend to class anyway, and it just brings more attention to them in the class,” Kiyonaga said.
The Hawaii Department of Education says schools will have some discretion in dealing with the problem, so if a principal does not want to let the child back in the class, he or she can do that.
Spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz says the DOE is following recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state health department. The new policy is an effort to cut down on absenteeism as well as trying to avoid possible cases of discrimination.
“Here’s what the CDC, the Department of Health has told the Department of Education and we are complying with that,” Dela Cruz said. “We can no longer just exclude a child from learning during the school day because he or she has head lice.”
Dela Cruz adds that there are a lot of misconceptions about how children can get lice, which is why many parents are alarmed. Ukus do not fly or crawl and are usually spread through direct contact.
“The main thing for us is informing parents of the change told by the health department that this is not a contagious disease and therefore we cannot discriminate against children who have had lice,” she said.
KHON2 also asked the Hawaii State Teachers Association about this new policy. A spokesman says the union was not consulted about this and wants more details from the DOE about how the procedures will be implemented.