The effect on a family with a sick child is enormous – home, work, and school lives are all impacted and often at the least convenient times! To complicate matters, it can be difficult deciding when to keep a child home and when to send them to school as usual.
Sickness is a part of childhood, whether it’s a fever, sore throat, cough or just not feeling well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the typical child has 6 to 12 illnesses a year ranging from mild to severe. Illness can occur throughout the year, but usually cluster in the winter due to flu season. These illnesses can seem to spread like wildfire affecting other students, teachers, and family members. Families and schools need to balance the child’s school attendance with the risk of spreading the illness to others in the school. Sometimes even minor illnesses require the child to stay home just to prevent the further spread of a contagious disease.
In addition to consulting your primary care physician and school nurse, these tips, according to Pediatrics Now, can help you decide whether to keep your child at home:
- If your child complains of not feeling well but otherwise has no definite symptoms, your child can likely attend school. The school nurse will typically call you if something more develops. Be sure to contact your pediatrician if the complaints persist or other more definite symptoms develop.
- Fever is a symptom of illness, not an actual diagnosis. Fever usually indicates the body is battling an infection. A child with a fever greater than 99.9 degrees Fahrenheit needs to stay home from school until the fever is gone for at least 24 hours without medication (acetaminophen or ibuprofen). If the fever does not resolve in two to three days, or if your child appears sick with any fever, call your doctor to have your child evaluated.
- Many rashes will resolve spontaneously and are not reason alone to keep a child home from school. Any rash associated with symptoms such as trouble breathing or swallowing, fever, or ill appearance, should be evaluated by your physician. Rashes that are itchy or scaly may be contagious and should be evaluated before sending a child back to school.
- Cough alone may not prevent your child from attending school unless it is interfering with a child’s sleep or ability to participate in school activities. If the cough is productive and has phlegm or is associated with fever or trouble breathing, keep your child home from school and arrange to have the child seen by their pediatrician.
- Stool problems do sometimes require a child to stay home from school. This is especially true with diarrhea where the stool frequency is often many times an hour. Diarrhea that is bloody or associated with fever, abdominal pain, or vomiting should be evaluated by your doctor.
- A child with vomiting, with or without diarrhea, needs to stay home from school. Your child can return to school when the symptoms have stopped and the child can tolerate a regular diet.
- Children can attend school with mild sore throats if no other symptoms are occurring. Any child with a sore throat associated with fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, or difficulty swallowing should be evaluated by a doctor before returning to school. Call your child’s school and ask if strep throat is going around; if so, have your child tested. A child with a diagnosis of strep throat needs to stay out of school until on antibiotics for 24 hours.
- A child with eye symptoms that include redness, swelling, tearing, itching or burning, mild sensitivity to light, drainage or overnight crusting may have conjunctivitis (pink eye), will need to be evaluated by a physician and needs to stay out of school until treated with antibiotic eye drops for 24 hours.
- If your child appears really sick, keep your child home and arrange an evaluation by your doctor that day. If you can’t get through to your doctor and you are really concerned, either call 911 or bring your child to the nearest emergency room for evaluation.
- Call your doctor’s office for advice if you are not sure about your child’s condition or have questions about whether your child should stay home from school. Physicians have an answering service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So, even after hours, you will be able to reach someone for assistance.
Please remember, the nurses are always available to answer any questions you might have on whether or not it is appropriate to send your child to school. Do keep in mind, however, that the school nurse, by law, cannot diagnose or treat any illnesses or injuries and will refer you to your primary care physician.
Many illnesses can be stopped before they spread by reminding everyone to practice frequent hand-washing, blow noses into tissues, and cover mouths when coughing or sneezing. However, even the best hygiene practices won’t always prevent the spread of illnesses. Sometimes staying home is the best way to help our students and staff stay well.
Understandably, it is difficult for many parents/guardians to keep their children home. Please make plans at the beginning of the year for when you have a sick child. Set up a system you can activate if your child is ill and needs to stay home and also set up a plan for when your child becomes ill at school and needs to be dismissed early.
Sending Sick/Hurt Students Home from School
If a child presents to the nurse with any of the symptoms noted above, parents will be called and the student will be sent home. If a child is seen twice in one day for the same complaint, parents will be called and the student will be sent home. It is disrupting for the child, their classmates and teachers to have students leave class frequently to see the nurse.