At one time, schools took a hard-line approach to head lice.

Infected children were likely to be sent home immediately and their classmates' families informed of possible exposure.

Some schools might even have a school-wide screening session to make sure the infestation hadn't gotten out of hand.

Things are changing, but they've had to come a long way.

In 2010, the national Centers for Disease Control estimated 6 to 12 million children age 3 to 11 are infected with head lice each year. Yet the agency concluded head lice do not carry diseases and most infestations occur through slumber parties, sleep-away camps and other contact outside of school.

That same year, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended no otherwise healthy child should be excluded from school because of the presence of head lice or of their eggs, called nits.

"No-nit policies for return to school should be abandoned," the academy advised in The School Nurse Bulletin of September 2010.

Since then, many school districts have relaxed their policies regarding head lice infestation, also known as pediculosis. Policies vary widely in this area but, in general, the management of head lice is left to parents.

In New Milford and the Region 12 schools of Bridgewater, Roxbury and Washington, the parent or guardian would be notified if a child were to be seen to have head lice.

Siblings of that child would be checked for head lice, but classmates would not be.

It would be left to parents of a child to notify playmates' parents in Region 12 schools.

In New Milford, however, the policy is being tightened.

A letter has been drafted in conjunction with the medical adviser to be sent to parents of all children in an elementary classroom where one child would be identified as being infected, according to Laura Olson, director of pupil services.

"We're being proactive, but still being sensitive to student privacy," Olson said. "No student will be identified as having a head lice infection."

stuz@newstimes.com; 203-731-3352