Pediculosis capitis, otherwise known as head lice, has been engrained in popular culture as perhaps the greatest source of consternation for school nurses — who must make the executive decision whether or not to send the infested scalp home to Mom and Dad. As it turns out, school lice policies are becoming more lax, as fewer nurses are sending home “lice notes” to parents or quarantining the students themselves.

Many parents have started expressing their discontent with the loosening policies, as it means children with lice may interact in close quarters with peers, playing together and putting their heads in close proximity to one another. Parents in support of looser policies say children shouldn’t have to feel ostracized for having lice, and that “outing” a child with notes sent home with others inflicts psychological harm.

But due largely to misconceptions about the blood-sucking parasite, new school policies have some parents concerned, while others are just frustrated with the added responsibility.

"I'm appalled. I am just so disgusted," Theresa Rice, mother to 8-year-old daughter Jenna, told the Associated Press. Since beginning school in August, Jenna has come home with lice three times. "It's just a terrible headache to have to deal with lice.”

For Rice, the bulk of her anger comes from the sheer time commitment of treating her daughter’s long blond hair. Picking nits off Jenna’s scalp is a four-hour process, she says. In addition to the other household chores, such as cleaning and laundry, devoting an evening to ridding her daughter of a bug infestation makes Rice wish the school picked up some of the slack. On more than one occasion, she’s had to seal up Jenna’s stuffed animals in a plastic bag for weeks, even after she was lice-free.

The bright side of having lice (if there can be such a thing) is that the bugs aren’t dangerous. Lice do not jump or fly; they crawl, and they don’t indicate poor hygiene. They don’t carry diseases and even though they periodically suck tiny amounts of blood from a person’s scalp, they don’t pose any serious health concerns.

"Lice is icky, but it's not dangerous," Deborah Pontius, the school nurse for the Pershing County School District in Nevada, told the AP. "It's not infectious, and it's fairly easy to treat."

Ultimately, the decision whether to send kids with lice home or keep them in school rests with individual states. Jenna Rice, for instance, attends a school in Tennessee — a state whose Department of Education allows students with untreated lice to go home at the end of the day, rather than cut the day short.

Meanwhile, the National Pediculosis Association in Massachusetts opposes loosening policies on sending such kids home. It pushes for regular parental screenings with finely toothed combs, rather than shampoos, which the group says are pesticides, unfit for use on a child.

"The new lice policy throws parental values for wellness and children's health under the bus," said Deborah Altschuler, the association’s president. "It fosters complacency about head lice by minimizing its importance as a communicable parasitic disease."

Among children 3 to 11 years old, an estimated six to 12 million infestations occur in the U.S. annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency says that nits, the tiny, dandruff-looking eggs of lice, are “very unlikely to be transferred successfully to other people.” One 2006 study argued that a “no-nit” policy robs children of 12-24 million school days annually and keeps parents who must stay at home from adding an extra $4-8 billion to the nation’s economy in a given year.