Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Lice outbreak at Goshen Elementary subsides

School system tweaks regulations county wide

E-mail this article \ Print this article

An outbreak of head lice that had afflicted Goshen Elementary School for more than three months — infesting more than 60 children and 27 staff — appears to have come under control over the winter break.

No new cases have been found since the 608-student school north of Gaithersburg reopened on Jan. 2 after more than a week off, said Interim Principal Nancy Erdrich.

The school will continue the preventive measures adopted during the outbreak, which included putting students’ coats, hats and backpacks in individual plastic bags every day and storing all rugs and cloth material outside the classroom.

‘‘Everything that we were doing beforehand, we’re continuing,” Erdrich said Monday evening. ‘‘In the coming weeks, we hopefully can put this behind us, but we’re not quite there yet just in terms of our thinking.”

With the problem persisting over the Thanksgiving break and deepening in December, school leaders were counting on the winter break to give staff and students time to get the situation under control.

Lice can be a common affliction among elementary school-aged children: Nearly 1,300 MCPS students were infested in the 2006-2007 school year, according to data complied by the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, which partners with the school system to treat lice infestations at schools.

But the issue at Goshen was above what is considered the normal level, and school administrators went to unusual lengths to address the situation.

The outbreak prompted a pair of school forums in December, where some parents called for more aggressive measures in screening everyone at the school.

As Goshen wrestled with its outbreak, MCPS officials were mulling a key change to its lice regulations. Following a recommendation from HHS — which was adapted from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — MCPS sent a letter to all principals Dec. 21 that said that anyone found with nits (lice eggs) more than one-half an inch from their scalp does not need to be sent home.

MCPS procedures had called for anyone found with nits to be excluded from the school until they could prove that they had received treatment and were nit-free.

A blood-sucking parasite, lice and nits must be near the scalp to survive. In general, lice and nits are not considered a health hazard, according to the CDC.

The CDC also says that school-wide hair screenings are an unproductive use of school resources.

New lice rule

Montgomery County Public Schools students and school staff found with lice eggs more than one-half inch from their scalp will no longer be sent home from school. MCPS revised its lice regulations along the lines of a county Health and Human Services recommendation, which the agency drew from CDC findings that nits more than one- quarter inch from the scalp are likely dead, and do not pose a health hazard.