When to Keep a Sick Child Home from School

Picture yourself getting ready for the school day when you hear your child coughing heavily. You then discover that his or her forehead is much warmer than usual. Do you keep your child home, or send him or her to school? There's so much conflicting information available on childhood illnesses and the contagion window that it makes the decision even more challenging.

Why not make it easy on yourself? Check your child's symptoms and find out how they fit into the school's "excused absence" policies. For example, most school's won't allow a child with fever to attend. Then use these tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to figure out what is best for your situation:

3 tips to help you decide

The AAP offers these general guidelines:

  1. Take your child's temperature -- a fever of 101o F or higher typically indicates illness, so keep your child home.

  2. Does your child feel well enough to participate in the classroom? If your child is run-down and experiences an unusual feeling of malaise, it's best to check with your pediatrician and keep him or her home from school.

  3. Do you see signs of pinkeye or the flu (fever, chills, aches, cough or sniffles)? If so, be sure to keep your child out of school for five days or so to avoid spreading the germs to other kids.

Common viruses and infections are out there. Keep in mind that many children age eight and over tend to be germ vectors in a school environment.

If your child has had a cold virus and develops sniffles or a headache, these are usually passing discomforts and you can send him or her to school after the roughly 5-day contagion window. But first be sure that none of the three possibilities shown above are true for your child. Just in case, advise the school nurse to be in touch with you if the symptoms get worse.

Checklist of symptoms

Physicians at the AAP say kids should stay home from school if they have:

  • 101o F temperature (or higher)

  • Severe coughing

  • Diarrhea in excess

  • Nausea / inability to keep food down

  • Vomiting at least 2X in that day

  • Head lice or scabies

  • Chicken pox, impetigo, strep throat (i.e., contagious health conditions)

  • Extreme difficulty with breathing

More recommendations

Many pediatricians advise parents that as long as the child does not have a fever or heavy nasal drainage, they can send him or her back to school about three or four days after the onset of symptoms.

On the other hand, the Centers for Disease Control states that cold and flu viruses are contagious for about a week (or more, in the event of flu) after the onset of symptoms.

What does your school policy on "excused absences" indicate? Most schools excuse a child due to illness, but it's important to stay in regular touch with the school attendance and/or health office--and find out how your child can make up any classwork due to time away due to illness.

In the end, you the parent know your child best. A combination of awareness and common sense will point you toward the right choice of whether or not to keep your ill child home from school for the health of your child and his or her classmates.

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