When to Keep an Ill Child Home

  • Sometimes it can be difficult for a parent to decide whether to send children to school when they wake up with symptoms of an illness or complaints that they do not feel well.  In general, unless your child is significantly ill, the best place for them is in school where they have all already been exposed to the same germs and where they are less likely to expose other more vulnerable people, like the very young or very old.  Remind your children to discard used tissues promptly, not to share personal items, to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze, to keep their hands away from their face, and to wash hands thoroughly and often with soap and warm water. However, there are some situations in which it is best to plan on keeping your child home for a day to rest or to arrange for an appointment with your health care provider.

    The following are a few situations that warrant watching at home and possibly calling your health care provider:

    • Fever greater than 100.4° orally, including a fever that requires control with medication such as Tylenol.
    • Child is too sleepy to participate in classroom activities.
    • The child is vomiting and/or having diarrhea.
    • A persistent cough that makes a child feel uncomfortable or disrupts the class.
    • Sore throat that is severe along with fever and feeling ill for more than 48 hours, OR after known exposure to a confirmed case of Strep throat infection.
    • Honey-crusted sores around the nose or mouth or rash on other body parts; OR a rash in various stages including boils, sores and bumps that may be chicken pox; OR a significant rash accompanied by other symptoms of illness such as fever.
    • Red, runny eyes that distract the child from learning.
    • Large amount of discolored nasal discharge, especially if accompanied by facial pain or headache.
    • Severe ear pain or drainage from the ear.
    • Severe headache.
    • Any condition that you think may be serious or contagious to others.

    Whenever there is a significant outbreak of a specific contagious infection, the school may send out a notice to alert you to watch out for any symptoms. If your child starts to develop symptoms, it is important that you alert your own health care provider that your child had a possible exposure. Be sure to ask your provider when it is safe for your child to return to school, both for your child’s health and for the health of the rest of the school.

    Finally, if you know your child is still running a fever, it is not a good idea simply to give them Tylenol and send them onto school because as soon as the medicine wears off, you are apt to get a call from the school nurse to leave work and come to pick up your feverish child. It is better to let them stay home in bed with a fever and take their medications at home until they are off all medicines and ready to learn for a full day in a classroom. If you find a pattern of your child asking to stay home from school, especially if they are falling behind or appear anxious by the thought of attending school, or if there does not appear to be any obvious physical symptoms, it may be a good idea to contact your school nurse and your health care provider to discuss your concerns.  Remember, whenever you keep your child home from school, please call your child’s main office or attendance office in advance of the start of the school day and leave a message that your child will be absent.