Lice Squad employee Tonja Scepanovic combs a child's hair as part of a lice check at the company's East York location.

Scratch plans to change no-nit policy, parents say

Last year, Dawn Mucci’s 12-year-old daughter was sent home from school with lice three times in the span of three months. Now that the Toronto District School Board is considering changing its exclusion policy for children with lice, she’s concerned, as a mother, it will happen again.

But as the founder of a Canada-wide lice removal company with a branch in East York, she’s also anticipating an uptick – up-nit? – in customers.

“From a professional standpoint, it’s going to be great for my business,” said Mucci, CEO of Lice Squad. “But from a parent standpoint, I’m going to be pretty upset if my child comes home again with lice because the school’s not doing anything about it.”

The TDSB is in the process of reviewing its policy regarding head lice after Toronto Public Health recommended new ways of dealing with the tiny parasites.

Currently, the board operates under a strict ‘no-nit’ policy that bans students from returning to school until their lice infestation has been properly treated.

According to Ryan Bird, spokesperson for the TDSB, the board will be reviewing its stance in light of the change in Toronto Public Health’s head lice policy. That was spurred by a position statement from the Canadian Paediatric Society that “exclusion from school and daycare due to the detection of the presence of ‘nits’ does not have sound medical rationale,’” he said.

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“As Toronto Public Health advises the TDSB on health matters, staff are now looking at our current procedure to determine if any changes are needed or required.”

Toronto Public Health spokesperson Vincenza Pietropaolo explained that policy changes were made to be consistent with recommendations offered by the Canadian Paediatric Society, a national association of pediatricians representing all provinces and territories.

“Toronto Public Health became aware that the Canadian Paediatric Society does not recommend excluding students from school due to pediculosis (head lice),” he said. “TPH therefore recently updated our policy to be consistent with these recommendations.”

The possibility of changing the school board’s policy has been met with concern from parents who don’t view the changes as beneficial or hygienic.

East York mother of three Tamera Kreemer remembers being kicked out of school for two weeks when she attended public school because she had head lice.

“I sat on a toilet for two weeks while my mom tried to get rid of them,” she recalled. “It was not fun and ultimately pointless as I went back to school and within a week, a kid got it again.”

According to Toronto Public Health, head lice are tiny, wingless insects that crawl from head to head. They can survive on the head for up to 30 days at a time and can be contracted more than once if not treated correctly.

Parents have been sharing their thoughts on a Facebook page called Stop the New Head Lice Protocol. Many have posted stories detailing the stress of treating their children’s lice infestations, which seems to be the root of many parents’ frustration.

For those who turn to professionals, such as the Lice Squad, for help, the costs can add up. Mucci’s company charges anywhere from $75 to $225 per visit, depending on the extent of the problem. In most cases, according to the company’s website, only one treatment is necessary.

“It’s an issue that’s communicable, it’s time-consuming, it’s frustrating and it can be costly if you’re repeatedly having to deal with it,” Mucci said.

It may be some time before parents find out about any official changes to the school board’s current policy.

“At this point, there have been no final determinations,” Bird said.

Meanwhile, Mucci is of two minds about the proposed change in policy.

“When they’re talking about excluding children from school, you don’t have to exclude anybody. You keep your child home for a day or two while they’re contagious and send them back, simply as though the child has a cold or a flu,” she said. “But if they’re going to allow them to come in with it, that’s going to be great for business.”