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Tag Archives | culture of inclusion

Ontario School Board Changes Lice Policy Because Inclusion

Mother treating daughter's hair against lice

Hello everyone! Happy New Year! Let’s talk about lice.

Yes, lice – the nasty little bugs that live and lay eggs in the hair of especially schoolchildren, making costly shampoos and treatments and complicated disinfecting regimes in the house a necessity. In my province, Ontario, most school boards have “no nits” policies that require that children on whom lice and/or nits are found stay home until they no longer have signs of lice. As a result, some children miss multiple days or even weeks of school.

Several Canadian school Boards have decided to rethink the way they deal with lice, in part due to a recent ruling by the Canadian Pediatric Society that lice are not a medical condition, but a “social nuisance”. They do not cause disease and aren’t a barrier to learning. Richard Pollack, an entomologist, told the Toronto Star that “generally speaking, one out of every 100 kids has lice, regardless of the type of policy the school has toward the insects” and that “the only real thing to fear when it comes to lice is hysterical parents running students out of school.” Read More About The New Head Lice Protocol in the Toronto Star

Mark Fisher: “Public Education is About Equity of Access for Everybody”

In Ontario, the Hastings and Prince Edward County District School Board is the latest board to move away from the “no nits” policy. According to its new policy, children with nits and lice will be welcome at school to continue their learning and so that they can avoid the stigma of being sent home because of lice. Anna Maria Tremonti of CBC Radio’s “The Current” interviewed Board Superintendent Mark Fisher on Jan 14th. The CBC doesn’t provide transcripts of their interviews that I can find, so here is one that I did of that portion of the interview:

AMT: Your school had a “no nits” policy, meaning kids with lice had to stay home. Why did you decide to drop that?

MF: Over the past couple of years I was getting a series of phone calls from parents concerned about the amount of time they were missing work and having to come up and pick their children up and not able to return to school…and we decided to take a look at our procedure, which is something that we review every few years. And when we dug into the issue a little bit we realized, ah, that the medical community said that this was a social nuisance and not a medical concern. And at the end of the day public education is about equity of access for all, and we don’t don’t believe in exclusion anymore for something that we don’t consider to be a serious issue.

AMT: You have also mentioned issues around the stigmatization of students. What’s that?

MF: Yeah, part of my portfolio was promoting positive mental health and well-being. I mean, this is an issue prevalent in  society. So think about how stigmatizing it is, for students to be identified as having head lice, sent to the office, and then having to wait for the parents to come and pick them up, and then not being able to return to school for days or weeks. So really, this is not something that promotes well-being in school, and it’s not a policy we’re comfortable with anymore.

AMT: Are you worried that they’ll be stigmatized if they stay?

MF; I think what we want to do is we want to be very culturally respectful of everybody’s needs. So, it’s not that we are allowing lice to be rampant in our schools – we still have management plans at each school, we’ll still do regular checks, and we’ll respect the rights of the individual by letting them stay for the remainder of the day, sending notification home to parents, along with resources about how to effectively treat this. And if there are some families that are unable to treat this, which has been the case in the past, we have set up mechanisms where they can access  get support, financially and  human, to resolve the issue.

AMT: And what kind of support, then? Like, you would actually pay –

MF: {muffled} counselors that could go into the home, work with the family…and if for some reason, and there are some families really struggle with resolving this issue, we have a charitable arm of our school board which they can make application for funding for some of these agencies to come in and take care of the issue for families.

AMT: You know, in a few minutes I’ll be speaking to Kristy Sinclair, one of the parents who does not want kids with lice attending school. Can you understand the fear some parents have, that their kids –

MF: Oh, I absolutely understand it. I’m a parent myself. I can understand why  parents are worried about this issue, but I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there. We did a lot of research, we checked with a lot of different health units, with the Canadian Pediatric Society…and really what we found was that there’s no evidence that “no nits” policies actually reduced the overall prevalence of nits. And in fact, Anna Maria, we have never excluded students from our high schools for this issue and we don’t have any different rate in the high school versus the elementary school, so…

AMT: Hmm. What kind of rate do you have in your schools?

MF: It’s about, just under 1%, which is I think pretty consistent with the information that we found when we looked at on a larger scale.

AMT: Okay. So what are you doing to help parents understand this decision?

MF: We definitely agree that there’s an education role for us as educators, so we really…we sent home a lot of information about a lot of the health units in our area. We’ve also talked about best practices, about how you actually treat and remove head lice…all of that information is available on our website, for anyone that wants to google “Hastings and Prince Edward County District School Board”, and we also have support staff available in those kind of really problematic cases.

AMT: Just take me through it one more time. You say you’ve done research, and the Canadian Pediatric Society says as well that it’s not a medical condition.

MF: That’s right.

AMT: And it’s not a health problem?

MF: Right. It doesn’t spread disease, it’s not infectious. The information that we have says that it’s a social nuisance.

AMT: Okay. And how much pushback are you getting?

MF: Well, I would say that we’re having a loud but vocal minority. I think, you know, change is difficult at any time, Anna Maria, and at the end of the day, public education is about equity of access for everybody. It’s a great equalizer. And you can’t have equity of outcome for our students when they graduate if you don’t provide equity of opportunity, so if our most vulnerable students aren’t allowed to come to school to learn, to participate, and to resolve the issue with support, I think that’s kind of counter to what we stand for.

Tremonti went on to interview Kristy Sinclair, creator of the “Stop the New Head Lice Protocol” Facebook group, and Richard Pollack, the entomologist that also talked to the Toronto Star. Listen to the full interview here.

The New Head Lice Protocol and Supporting Inclusion When It’s Easy

Here’s the thing.

I have some gut feelings on this on this issue that I admit are based on a very small amount of research and probably more on the idea of having lice than anything else. I think that Fisher makes some valid points. I think that Sinclair ‘s points about how life infestation *can* become a medical issue when children scratch to the point where they break open skin and give themselves infections, and that the cost of treating lice can over and over and the time at work lost for parents makes the policy economically punitive for families, are also valid.

And for the record, I’ve got no problem with any initiative that reduces stigma for children who get lice. I’m not sure that this policy change will do it, but I could be wrong, of course,

But the main reason that I wanted to comment on this story, and why I wanted to include a transcript of Tremonti’s interview with Mark Fisher, is that I’m fascinated by the co-opting of the language of inclusion as a reason for the policy change.

I’ve never worked in the Hastings and Prince Edward County District School Board, or any of the Boards that have moved away from the “no nits” policy in favour of the one that allows students with lice to return to school. I’d like to see how their inclusion policies for disabled children are working (acknowledging, of course, that perhaps the Hastings and Prince Edward County District School Board has an exemplary record of providing equity of access to everyone, including disabled students). Perhaps all disabled students in the Board do get to attend school and get what they need at school to allow them to learn and participate to the full extent that they can, like their peers do.

If so, congratulations to Hastings and Prince Edward County District School Board – I’m glad that this particular school board has been able to overcome all of the physical, social, and attitudinal barriers in all its its schools that prevent the full participation of disabled students, that they can now focus on making sure that non-disabled students with lice can fully participate while dealing with a (their words) non-medical issue that’s not widely understood socially.

I’m glad that inclusion for students with disabilities no longer seems to be an issue for them, that they can put all this focus on a non-medical issue that that affects one student in 100 at any given time.

I’m glad that all the challenges of families of disabled children in their school are being sufficiently met and in such an efficient way that the board, in its quest for inclusion and for making sure that all children can get an education, can provide counselors in the home and funding to help meet the needs of families of children with lice.

I’m glad that the Board feels that it’s the school’s place to work in partnership with community agencies to make sure families of children with lice are getting what they need, and that they’re willing to be part of education and awareness-spreading. I guess that they’ve got all the partnerships they need when it comes to disabled students and their needs. Good for them.

(In case it’s not coming across, I’m laying the sarcasm on fairly thick.)

Go ahead and call me a cynic, but I think we have a case of, “It’s easy for a school board to believe in  inclusion and providing “equity of access for all” when it doesn’t cost a lot them a lot of extra money.” Again, I have no idea about this particular board’s record on inclusion, and perhaps I don’t even have a right to be skeptical. But we’ve all heard stories and seen stories in action about schools subtly (and not so subtly) demonstrating that inclusion of disabled students and a commitment to equity of access when it comes to their education is *not* their policy even when it’s their policy. I’ve heard far too many stories. I don’t like that I’ve become skeptical, but there it is.

If I was the parent of a disabled child in a board replacing their “no nits” policy, I’d want some assurance that *my* child’s right to equity to access would continue to be preserved, or be preserved at least as well as, that of children with lice. There’s a lot in here that need to apply to *all* students as a general rule, on a daily basis basis – cultural respect of needs, respect for the rights of individuals, and preservation of all students’ rights to learn and participate. If you’re going to go on the radio and say that you stand for inclusion for everyone, you’d better be prepared to stand behind it.




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