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A lousy job

A bill moving through the Mississippi legislature would call in reinforcements to help teachers with one of their most unpleasant duties: examining childrens' scalps for lice.

The bill, which has already passed the House, would require workers from the state health department to intervene in repeat cases of lice. Those workers would be expected to follow up with childrens' families, treat family members, and help make houses lice-free.

Rep. Jim C. Barnett, a retired doctor, said that not only is the job an unpleasant one for teachers, it is a battle they often cannot win.

"They jump," he said, explaining how the parasites spread. "You can't educate a 6-, 7-, or 8-year-old about lice. You need to talk to the parent."

Lice--the plural of louse--are small insects that attach to the body or hair and live off blood. An outbreak is often associated with poor hygiene.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. V.C. Manning, a former superintendent and principal, has been dramatized by recent cases is Mississippi. In one middle school, 600 students were checked by teachers and 72 were sent home. Those affected were allowed to resume class only after proving they had shampooed with a lice treatment.

"Principals have nowhere to turn," Mr. Manning said. "The health department will have the authority to go into houses, which principals and superintendents don't have."

Bus stops

Illinois officials are boasting that a 1995 state law that screens the criminal backgrounds of applicants for jobs as school bus drivers is working.

In an update on the law, Secretary of State George Ryan, a prominent backer of the plan, recently announced that in the last half of 1996, the law identified 110 convicted criminals who applied for driving jobs.

Among the offenders: a woman with 10 prostitution convictions over three years; two people convicted of public indecency; and criminal pasts ranging from drug crimes to murder.

The law does not cover bus drivers on the job before the law passed. But officials said that the high turnover rate on the job means that nearly all of the 25,000 drivers will have been screened over the next five years.


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