Article at a Glance

  • If your child has diarrhea, a fever, a rash, pink eye, or the stomach flu, you should keep him or her home.
  • The first question you should ask yourself is if your child’s symptoms will prevent your child from participating in school activities.
  • If your child is just experiencing mild cold symptoms it is generally no reason to miss school.

Your child wakes up sick and suddenly you have just minutes to figure out what to do. School or no school? It’s not an easy decision when you have a lot of time to think about it, let alone when you are trying to get everybody ready for the day.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell if a stomachache is just nerves, the stomach flu, or theatrics. If it isn’t anything serious, you don’t want to miss a day of school. But then you don’t want to send your child to school sick either. What to do?

When To Take A Sick Day
If your child is suffering from any of the symptoms below, then the choice becomes pretty easy—you will probably want to keep him or her home.

  • Fever: If children have a fever, then they are usually too sick to go to school. Fevers are a great way to tell because they are easily quantifiable—your child either has a fever or doesn’t. Most schools ask that children stay home until they are fever free for at least 24 hours without fever-reducing medication. What is considered a fever varies according to school, but generally it is a temperature between 100 F and 101 F. Be aware that a sick person’s temperature can also vary depending on the time of day. In the morning a fever is generally lower and then will get higher towards the evening. So what looks like a low fever in the morning could likely get worse later.
  • Vomiting and Diarrhea: A child who is vomiting or suffering from severe diarrhea should not be sent to school for a variety of reasons. Not only could both lead to embarrassing accidents for your child and gross messes for school staff, but they are also incredibly uncomfortable and would make participating in school very difficult. Children should be able to go back to school the day after the symptoms have stopped. However, children can also go to school if they are still only experiencing a few controllable diarrhea symptoms.
  • Pink Eye: Pink eye (or conjunctivitis) is very contagious and is either caused by a virus or bacteria. If it is viral, your child should be able to go back to school in about 3 to 5 days once the symptoms start to improve. If it is bacterial, you can send your child back to school 24 hours after antibiotic treatment has started.
  • Rashes: If children have an unexplainable rash, they should stay home. Many rashes are contagious and should be examined by a doctor.

When It Is Not Obvious
If your child has any other symptoms besides those listed above, you should ask yourself:

  • Will these symptoms prevent my child from participating in school activities or focusing in class?
  • Will my child’s illness present a significant burden on teachers and staff?
  • Will my child’s illness pose a risk to others?

Most importantly, go with your instincts. You know your child better than anybody. Sometimes children may not have any obvious symptoms, but may be acting unusual or lethargic. Or your child might be complaining of pain or not feel like eating. In these cases your best bet might be to keep your child at home and call your pediatrician.

It is also a good idea to give your child some time to recover. If your child is just getting over a serious illness or has been up coughing all night, you might want to consider giving them a day to rest.

When Your Child Can Go To School
Sometimes it isn’t necessary for your child to miss a day of school if they are just a little sick. If your child is active and playing at home, they will likely do just fine at school. For example a mild cough, a sore throat, or a little congestion won’t interfere with your child’s ability to learn or participate at school.

And if you are stumped on what to do, know that there are plenty of people here to help. If you have any questions about your school’s sick policy, call your school nurse. Or if you are worried about your child’s health, give your pediatrician a call. We might be able to take some of the guesswork out of the decision.

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Too Sick For School?

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