How to Decide Whether Your Child Should Stay Home from School

Too sick for school?

By Christina Elston


This is the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) current recommendation for children (and adults) who are sick with flu-like symptoms:

Keep kids home for at least 24 hours after fever is gone . (Fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)

More Flu Q&A from the CDC

Here she comes, frantic and dressed for work, with coughing and sniffling tot in tow. And kindergarten teacher Mariessa Doherty is there to greet her.

“She’ll say, ‘Well, we’ve had a rough morning, but I really need to get to work,’” says Doherty.
As a mother of three, Maya Bunik has also been there, but she lets the school know if one of her kids is under the weather. “I’ll tell them we might be coming down with something, but I’m not sure and I need them to understand we’re trying to make it through today,” she says.

Of course, Bunik has an advantage when trying to decide whether her kids are too sick for school. She’s medical director of the Child Health Clinic at The Children’s Hospital in Denver. For other parents – especially those juggling the demands of work and family, and pressure from schools to boost both attendance and test scores – it isn’t so easy.

After six years in teaching, Doherty has seen plenty of kids in her classroom whose parents should have kept them home. “You can just see them struggling,” she says. “They don’t get anything out of the school day, and they end up getting all the other kids sick.”

Always keep your child home if …

  • He has a fever. This means a temperature at or above 101 degrees Fahrenheit. With fever at this level, even if your child doesn’t have additional symptoms, he or she is “brewing an infection,” says pediatrician Vicki Iannotti, M.D.
  • She has vomited two or more times. A single episode of vomiting could be brought on by any number of things – nerves or too much bouncing around – so wait until it happens twice before you worry. “The problem with vomiting is, it’s such a dramatic event,” says Bunik.

  • He has diarrhea. Watery or loose stools mean you’re likely dealing with a virus, meaning you should keep your child at home and make sure she drinks lots of water. But if your child has diarrhea with blood or mucus in it, he needs to visit the doctor, as this could be a bacterial infection.

  • She is coughing or having any sort of breathing trouble. Coughing spreads infection. And a cough that keeps your child up at night means she’ll be too tired to learn the next day.

  • He has a rash that is spreading. Check with your doctor to determine whether the rash is contagious before sending your child to school.

  • She is lethargic. Iannotti stresses that “lethargic” is beyond just acting tired. “Most parents use lethargy in a looser sense than we do,” she says. However, a child who is truly difficult to wake, or whose behavior suddenly makes a dramatic shift, needs to see a doctor.

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