Is your child too sick to go to school?

Undoubtedly, there will be times during the school year when your child isn't feeling quite right, and you will need to decide whether to keep him home from school or not. Sure, it's an easy decision when your child has something obvious, like a fever of 104 or an easily recognizable illness. But what about those times when symptoms are somewhat vague or intermittent? How do you decide whether or not they should attend school?

 

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Robert Steele

Robert W. Steele, MD, is a board certified pediatrician at St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield, MO. He graduated from medical... Read more

Here are a few guidelines to help you make that decision:

Does he have a fever?

A temperature taken orally or rectally, which is greater than 100.5 indicates a probable infection as cause for his illness. As a general rule, children who have a viral illness are still infectious if they are still experiencing fever. And there are plenty of illnesses which cause fever with few other symptoms. Therefore, it is best to keep your child home if he has had fever in the last 16 hours. 

Is he contagious?

There is no better way to become the PTA's public-enemy-number-one than to send your child to school and have him infect his classmates. The problem is, it is often difficult to determine whether his symptoms constitute an illness which is contagious or not. As a general rule, most upper respiratory infections, which have mild symptoms such as a runny nose and scratchy throat, are not transmitted through the air but rather by hand-to-hand contact. Therefore, allowing your child to attend school is a good idea when only these symptoms are present. It is also a good idea to remind him not to allow anyone to drink after him and be sure to wash hands often. However, when you are unsure of his contagiousness, a simple call to the school nurse or your pediatrician can often lend you guidance.

Will his symptoms prevent him from participating in class?

Sometimes he has no fever or major infectious symptoms but his feelings of being run-down will keep him from being an active participant in class. Infectious mononucleosis, for example, can cause substantial lack of energy even after the fever and sore throat have passed. There is no easy way to judge this. However, by the time your child reaches school age, you will have a good idea of what energy threshold he has, and hopefully your past experience with illnesses will guide you in this decision. This is not an all-or-nothing point however. It may be that his level of activity will allow him to attend half the day, and there is no harm in trying if you are not sure. Just communicate with the teacher your concerns and be prepared for a phone call later in the day saying he needs to be picked up.

If you can answer "No" to these three questions, your child should most likely be able to attend school. In other words, a runny nose, mild headache, raspy voice or other minor symptoms should not necessarily prevent your child from going to school. However, it is always a good idea to give both the school and your child the phone number where you can be reached should symptoms worsen while in class.

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