When is your child too sick for school?

When is your child too sick for school?

When is your child too sick for school?


by JEANNNE FAULKNER / myRegence Contributor


Posted on November 3, 2009 at 10:50 AM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 9:40 AM

Children's immune systems seem to be directly linked to their parents' calendars. Whenever there's absolutely no way Mom or Dad can miss work, one of the kids comes down with a bug. As tempting as it is to give them some medicine, pack their lunches and pitch them in the car (you know you've been there), there are times when children absolutely should not go to school.

How do parents know if their child is too sick for school? We've got three sets of guidelines: One is from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP); one is a set of guidelines used by most school districts; the last is a list of practical suggestions defined by working parents with common sense. Go ahead and choose your favorite, or mix and match as needed. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics asks you to consider the following three questions when making that tough decision between sending a "kind of sick kid" to school and keeping a "definitely sick" kid at home:

1. Does the illness prevent the child from participating comfortably in activities? Translation: If barfing in their desk will prevent them from comfortably participating in the spelling bee, keep them home. 

2. Does the illness result in a need for care that is greater than the staff can provide without compromising the health and safety of other children?
Translation: Will the teacher spend so much time wiping your child's nose that other children might escape from the classroom? Keep them home.

3.  Does the illness pose a risk of spreading a harmful disease to others?
Translation: Will your child start an epidemic? For Heaven's sake, keep Jr. home. 

The AAP says, "If the answer to any of these questions is 'yes,' then the child should not go to school. If she/he is sent to childcare or school, then the caregiver or teacher has the authority to exclude the child." 

Translation: If you, the parent, fail to use common sense, your child will be isolated in the sick room, shunned by other kids (especially if they barfed in their desk) and probably hold you accountable for thousands in psychiatric bills later in life. Parents will most likely get a call from the school during the middle of their most important meeting (which will be patched in to the conference room on speaker phone), and be asked to come right away and pick the child up. The person making the call will not be chipper or polite. He or she  will be annoyed with you for exposing the rest of the school to what will likely be the next bad virus going around. 

Schools send home lists of "sick kid do's and don'ts." Their guidelines vary by state but usually include the following:

Keep your children at home if they have these symptoms or conditions:

  • A temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher means no school. They should be fever-free for 24 hours (without medicine) before going back.
  • It's fine to send your child to school if he/she feels OK but has a mild cough and/or runny nose. If they can't use Kleenex without help or keep their cough covered, think twice. 
  • Children with bad coughs should stay home. This can be a symptom of a severe cold, the flu, bronchitis or even pneumonia. Don't mess around with this one. Take them to the doctor.
  • If they have diarrhea or vomiting, keep them home until 24 hours after their last "trip to the bathroom."
  • Severe sore throats could indicate a strep infection when accompanied by headache, upset stomach, and/or rash, even when there's no fever. Get a strep culture at your doctor's office. The kids can go back to school 24 hours after they start antibiotics.
  • Earaches are usually painful and may indicate infection. Keep kids home.
  • Most cases of pink eye (conjunctivitis) are caused by viruses and clear up on their own, without medication. Bacterial conjunctivitis needs an antibiotic from the doctor. Pink eye spreads easily--parents can get it too. Don't send your young ones back to school until their doctor says it's OK.
  • Get any rash checked by the doctor before you send your child to school. Many infectious and contagious diseases, including impetigo, strep, fifth disease and chicken pox can cause rashes. Rashes caused by allergies or eczema aren't a problem, but be certain that is the cause. Rule of thumb: Keep all mystery rashes at home, even if they don't itch.

Parents Common Sense Guidelines

  • Think about how you'd feel at work if you had the same symptoms as your child.
  • If they're miserable at home, they'll feel worse at school.
  • No matter how important your conference is, it's not as important as your child's health.
  • If your kids are scratching their heads, check for lice. Yes, even your children can get them, and it's totally un-cool to send your lice-y loved ones to school. There's a reason most schools have a no-nit policy. 
  • Remember the kid who threw up in the classroom when you were in school? That's right, you still remember it. Don't let that be your child. That's a memory that lasts a lifetime.
  • If your child is frequently sick on weekdays and well on weekends, check to see if she or he is having trouble in school. 
  • Follow the golden rule--do unto other parents as you would have them do unto you. Translation: If you wouldn't want your child exposed to someone with similar symptoms, that's a clue to keep your kid home when illness occurs. 

About the Author

Jeanne Faulkner is a freelance writer and registered nurse in Portland, Ore. Her work appears regularly in Pregnancy and Fit Pregnancy, and she has contributed articles to the Oregonian, Better Homes & Gardens, Shape and other publications.