An Open Letter to the Ministry of Education

How is it that another school year is about to begin, and the laws in this country have still not changed? How is it that in 2017, children are allowed to come to school without the most basic and necessary precautions being taken?

Allow me a moment to explain:

Over Shabbat we had a guest, a twelve year-old girl who lives in a children’s home most of the year. She was my daughter’s chanicha a few years ago when my eldest did Sherut Leumi. We were told by the social worker last week that this girl – I’ll call her Batya – needed a stable environment for the weekend, since she’s been with her mostly-absent parents for a good part of the summer.

The neglect that this child has faced is mind boggling. (I could make this article about the many flaws in the Child Welfare Department, but I will have to save that for another time.)

During Shabbat, Batya complained of an itchy scalp, and begged to be combed through for lice. Yes, this is going where you think it is. But it is far beyond what you could possibly imagine.

Her thick, curly, knotted long hair needed, in truth, to be shaved. But this would cause emotional trauma to a young girl, so on Motzai Shabbat, we combed. And we combed. And we combed.

There were literally hundreds of nits and lice with every single comb-through. Hundreds. With every stroke of the comb. I used an entire bottle of conditioner so the tightly packed teeth could get through her tangles without causing this poor girl agonizing pain. After an hour of combing only a small portion of her head – where I excised thousands of nits and lice, my daughter took over the job. Two hours later she finished – not because she’d gotten all the lice, but because it was all either she or Batya could take. She found fallen lice on her shirt, on her hands, on the floor.

I will spend the rest of this week laundering sheets, towels, blankets, and clothes in boiling water, and cleaning out the bathroom where we combed this poor child. I’ve already found nits and lice in the sink and on the counter. I will spend this week combing out my children and myself to make sure we’re lice-free.

How is it that children are allowed to go to school every year, every day, without a lice check?! For the children whose parents care about this issue – and there are many – it isn’t fair that their children are exposed daily to others like Batya. For the Batyas out there, it isn’t fair that they scratch themselves until they bleed freely, because the infestation is so huge and the itchiness is unbearable.

Although most children don’t have infestations as bad as Batya’s, it takes only one female louse to jump from an infested head, and nits are planted. An unknowing child can afflict an entire family or classroom.

Don’t tell me that because both parents work, the country can’t afford to have a parent stay home if a child has lice. Both children and adults should be tested after every holiday more than a week long. Yes, this means hiring hundreds of lice checkers. Yes, it is worth the money. And if adults weren’t allowed in the workplace because of lice – at a loss of that day’s pay – and if children weren’t allowed in school, the problem would no doubt be eradicated. Probably overnight.

I find it horribly ironic that every Pesach we describe the Ten Plagues as such devastating events, and yet, as a country, we choose to live with one of them. It is, quite simply, an epidemic. One that can be easily solved, but instead, one we’ve chosen to live with.

Ministers of Education, Knesset Members, and Mr. Prime Minister: There may not be enough time for the coming school year, but begin the process for next year NOW. Make schools and workplaces deal with this issue so that parents will be forced to, and so that children like Batya will have one less obstacle to overcome.

About the Author
Pam Moritz has taught English for 30 years. She currently runs "The Red Pencil" writing critique group and tutors from her home in Hashmonaim.
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