Tuckerton Faces Lice Problem Head On

Nov 01, 2019
Photo by: Pat Johnson ITCHY ISSUE: Head lice are unwanted visitors to Tuckerton Elementary School.

A perennial problem at the beginning of each school year is the proliferation of head lice shared among students, but this year seems to have been particularly problematic. During the Oct. 28 meeting of the Tuckerton Board of Education, a Tuckerton parent called it an epidemic and suggested the board change its policy on head lice, which he said had allowed children with “nits” (lice eggs) to stay in school. The policy that is in effect in many schools, including Tuckerton, requires a child be sent home only if live lice are found.

He also asked the board to do head checks earlier in the year before lice could proliferate. The parent said he had spent five hours researching head lice and policies concerning lice throughout the state and found the state had thrown out the policy requiring children with nits to be sent home.

School Superintendent Janet Gangemi said nits take between nine and 12 days to hatch, and in that time, the parent could take steps to eradicate the lice eggs. By keeping the child in school, it eliminates the stigma, and the child can continue to participate in school activities.

But the parent asked this question: “If a child’s head is inspected at 8 a.m. and found to have no live lice but have 100 nits on their head, how many will hatch by 2 p.m.?”

Gangemi said there were no children with that drastic a number in their hair.

However, the school board approved a company, Lice Lifters Treatment Center, to come to the school the next day (Oct. 29) and do a school-wide head check of all students. They would also do an educational program for parents on Nov. 18, 19 and 20 during parent/teacher conferences. The company does not charge the school but uses the time as an opportunity to sell its products.

The parent at the board meeting suggested that the only product that worked for him in killing nits was Nix Plus. He also suggested the board be proactive in the future and hire per-diem nurses to assist the school nurse during the opening days of school.

In more pleasant news, Gangemi said the school’s focus on improving math scores in “Testing Data Analysis” had paid off. There had been a big jump in the 2019 Spring PARCC scores. In particular, the fifth- and sixth-grades had a strong performance, with all of the sixth-graders meeting or exceeding expectations.

This year, one of the superintendent’s goals will be focusing on improving English Language Arts, in particular “language conventions” (grammar) and writing.

Another positive, all teachers met their student growth goals of improving three out of four students’ scores. New Jersey also looks at these statistics when testing a school’s overall performance.

The board approved increasing Gangemi’s salary to accommodate the increased responsibilities of the expanded preschool. Her increase, plus other additions to salaries, come from the $679,140 state aid the school received for expanded preschool.

Principal Stephanie Wroniuk reported that all four preschool classrooms are up and running. Starting next month, students who have been elected to receive a “Student of the Month” award will be invited to school board meetings.

The board discussed a subject that came up at last month’s meeting: police officers in the school. Gangemi asked the board to refine what it wanted. Was the goal to increase security or to promote good relations between children and police officers? The costs vary.

Gangemi had reached out to other elementary school superintendents and administrators in the state and had received an overwhelming response, she said. There are three options; all must be hired by the Tuckerton Police Department and then paid for by the school district. Class 2 is a police officer who has all the equipment (including a gun), and the authority to enforce the law.

A Class 3 police officer is a new position established by the state and meant to meet increased enforcement needs: a retired police officer who must have retired within three years of applying for the new position, and be physically fit. He or she is also a law enforcement officer with all the powers of a Class 2. “This is what Little Egg Harbor and Pinelands schools have, and it costs $55,000 an officer,” she said.

The third option is a trained school resource officer, who is a law enforcement officer specially trained to work in school systems and relate to children. Brick schools have SROs, and they cost $89,000 each.

“So we need to be clear on what our goal is,” Gangemi said. “Personally, I think we are light years ahead than other districts in our security measures. All the rooms in the building have the ability to be locked. I also have a personal feeling around police officers with guns being in elementary schools.”

One Tuckerton police officer, “Nick,” used to drop into the school on occasion to talk with the kids, but now he is on night duty, Gangemi said. She said she would again reach out to Tuckerton Police Chief Brian Olsen and see if an informal school visit was something one of his officers on the day shift might be keen on. “Otherwise, I can reach out to Little Egg (Harbor Police Department) or maybe the New Jersey State Police.”

Gangemi said she has seen a Tuckerton police cruiser in front of the school since the request for police presence was mentioned during last month’s board meeting.

The board members will think about refining goals and discuss the issue again.

The board also voted to increase the per diem salary for substitute teachers from $90 to $95 in order to compete with neighboring schools. Apparently all schools are having difficulty finding substitute teachers.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, student Michael Quintez asked the board if the older students could have equipment such as hula hoops, kick balls, walking cups, chalk and jump ropes. Apparently the district ordered these items for the Pre-K students to use, but the older kids were not to use them.

Gangemi said she had not ordered these items for the older students because she spent a lot of money for such items last year and “they went over the fence and disappeared” or had been destroyed. “The hulu hoops didn’t even make it a week and they were all broken,” she said.

However, she had decided to purchase new equipment to replace those that were ruined, but they have to be accounted for and kept locked up after use.

“Can you be my ambassador to the other students?"  she asked him. He answered in the affirmative.

— Pat Johnson


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