The Wall Street Journal, stirring up what appears to be a liberal political vendetta against “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) laws, argued the case on behalf of a nonprofit organization that arguably has made millions of dollars selling parents, legislators, and educators on a goofy (but personally profitable for the organization) theory about how best to control head lice.
The page one Journal story, “Kink in Federal Law Is Prompting Schools To Stop Picking Nits,” (subscription may be required to view story) fronted the point of view of the so-called “National Pediculosis Association,” registered as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, claiming that it has the best interests of children and wants to protect them from “toxic” chemicals used to combat the common, and relatively harmless, infestations of head lice that kids sometimes get, either at school or at camp.
NPA is now arguing that NCLB laws give schools extra credit for good attendance rates, so schools are, in NPA’s view, getting lax on keeping kids out of school when they have nits in their hair from head lice.
“Nits” are the empty egg casings left behind after the lice hatch. By themselves they are harmless, and most reputable medical experts now say that school policies requiring children to be completely free of these nits before being allowed back in school, are based on superstition, fear, prejudice, and no scientific facts about how to control lice.
NPA wants schools to adopt no-nits policies again, mainly because NPA wants to sell desperate and uninformed parents a special “nit comb” so they can spend hours picking through the kids’ hair for these lifeless protein globules that are very difficult, if not impossible, to detach from the hair shafts.
The Journal story reported on NPA’s righteous indignation about NCLB, but the story completely omitted interviews conducted with public health experts at the Harvard University School of Public Health, one of whom confided in me that they spent hours with the reporter and repeatedly told him that “no nits” policies were ill-advised.
The story also ignored the fact that in its 2000 federal 990 tax return, NPA reported nearly $2 million in revenue from the sales of nit combs. Talk about vested interests!
The bottom line is that NPA is not a public-benefit nonprofit group. It is really just a clever mail order scheme taking advantage of the tax laws and using its ability to reopen debate on a scientifically closed medical issue with emotion and junk science — so that it can sell more of its hair care product.
Happily, however, nit comb sales are plummeting as people become better educated about what a non-issue head lice and nits really are from a medical standpoint.
NPA’s 2004 Form 990 seems to report less than $200,000 in sales from nit combs. That’s good, considering they avoid taxes while paying their executive director over $100,000.
Unless they are hiding the nit comb sales somewhere else.
I haven’t had a chance to study the 23-page form at length yet. But there’s more interesting stuff revealed — except if you read the Journal article. It doesn’t mention the fact that NPA’s 990 form lists no expenses for lobbying on public issues, and yet their website crows about their efforts to have various pesticides banned or restricted by state legislators.
The bottom line, NPA is abusing the 501(c)3 shield. It’s conducting lobbying efforts to reduce the use of effective treatments, and arguing a political case against NCLB to try to foster regulations that would improve its abilities to sell more nit combs.
To me, that’s lobbying, and their Form 990 is seriously deficient by not reporting expenses for pestering government officials at every level in hopes of selling more combs.
I wrote a letter to the editor of the Journal about this seriously unbalanced and medically flawed story. They haven’t published my letter (what a surprise!).
So that’s why I’m publishing it here in a slightly amplified form with relevant hyperlinks, and copying it to Robert Tomsho, the reporter who produced the story:
To the editor:
Robert Tomsho’s story in the June 1 Journal , about efforts to revive the medieval and medically unnecessary practice of torturing children by barring them from schools until you have methodically removed every empty egg case from long-dead lice (the receptacles are called “nits”), fails to mention important information that your readers will appreciate .
The National Pediculosis Association, despite its registration as a nonprofit corporation, generates more than $2 million a year in revenue from the sales of “nit combs” ostensibly to help parents rid their children of this “terrible scourge,” according to the organization’s own IRS 990 form. [2000 form; sales have declined dramatically as noted above.]
Thus, NPA has a strong, financial interest in seeing that school districts enforce ill-advised “no-nits” policies, so that desperate and ignorant parents will purchase NPA’s combs. NPA also advocates laws against the more useful and effective prescription anti-lice shampoos and creams — which, if more widely prescribed, would certainly cut into nit comb sales.
NPA persists in fighting this battle in favor of antiquated treatment modalities, even though such policies are frowned upon by most major medical authorities, including the American Academy of Pediatrics , the National Association of School Nurses, which specifically states in its policy, “Data does not support school exclusion for nits. Because no disease process is associated with head lice, schools are not advised to exclude students when nits remain after appropriate lice treatment, although further monitoring for signs of re-infestation is appropriate,” [emphasis was already in the statement] and the previously mentioned Harvard University School of Public Health, among many others.
There is no medical need to eliminate empty egg cases from childrens’ hair if there is no evidence of live infestation — and even live lice are not known to be medically harmful, just unsightly to the squeamish.
The article should have reflected medical reality, not merely used the opportunity to raise questions about the “No Child Left Behind” law. The “nit-picking” fanatics have been terrorizing children and causing extraordinary and unnecessary absenteeism for years.
Don’t encourage your readers to disregard medical facts because someone wants to sell them a $9.95 nit comb.
[End of letter text]
And that goes for all of you reading this.
Fight ignorant school officials who try to tell you no-nits policies are appropriate. These idiotic policies are costing your children countless days out of school, and only enriching the people who sell these stupid combs.