Head lice and schools
By Linda Drummond |
Head lice and schools

Once your child starts primary school you're bound to hear the word that will start your head itching - head lice. Infestations of head lice are common once children hit school-age, and getting rid of the critters can be the bane of many parent's lives.

Head lice, or nits, are spread through head-to-head contact and can only be eradicated with a dedicated commitment. Head lice breed rapidly, laying eggs that stick tenaciously to the hair shaft and the lice feed on the blood from the scalp. A louse's breeding cycle lasts 10 days from egg through nymph through to egg-laying maturity at 10 days - so any nit-busting program needs to last a full 10 days to a fortnight to ensure that all breeding lice are killed.

If your child keeps coming home with adult lice after you've treated again and again it's probable that they're being re-infested at school. That's where a dedicated commitment from the school community can come in.

What schools can do

Ultimately treating head lice is a parent's responsibility, but there's nothing more distressing than spending hours treating your child and finding them coming home from school with a fresh case of adult lice in their previously treated hair. In this case, the school community needs to band together.

When a school has an infestation problem there needs to be a combined effort to rid all the children of head lice.


  • The first step is for the school to send home a note outlining the problem and reminding parents to check all members of the family for head lice - and to treat every member who has head lice - and that can involve parents too.
  • Schools should develop a head lice policy to deal with head lice and keep all staff informed.
  • Schools should educate families, staff and children to de-stigmatise the issue.
  • The school can also encourage children to avoid head-to-head contact wherever possible.
  • When the problem seems to have reached 'infestation' stage, schools can also hold a "Check and Treat" day where all the children are checked and treatment commences on the same day. For these days all parents need to sign consent forms and trained groups of parents come in to help diagnose and treat affected kids.
  • Schools should also prepare an agreement for parents to sign which outlines expectations about weekly head checks, for parents to not send children to school with live lice and to outline the school's responsibility in regard to head lice.

What parents can do

For some reason there seems to be a stigma around head lice, but as parents, we need to change that. Head lice can be caught by any child, so we needn't feel embarrassed if our child comes home with some critters. Instead, it's time to speak up. Tell your friends and family that your child has head lice - and that you're starting treatment. Inform the school so they're aware too and can act accordingly. If you're concerned that there may be a child who is continually re-infecting others, you’ll need to tread carefully. If you're friends with the parent you might be able to start up a friendly chat about head lice and how you're dealing with it and ask them what treatments they find successful. If not, try talking to the principal for ideas on how the problem can be tackled.

How to check for head lice

The easiest way to check for live head lice is to use the conditioner and comb method. Remember that not all cases of head lice will cause itching - and the lice can be difficult to spot on certain hair colours. If you're not keen on using chemical or commercial treatments, the conditioner and lice comb method when used every second day for a fortnight, can successfully eradicate head lice too.

Read more about head lice: 

Ready Set Learn


This article was written by Linda Drummond for Kidspot, New Zealand's largest family health resource. Sources include Victorian Government Health Information, Queensland Government DET Education, James Cook University and NSW Government Health.


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