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Is My Child Too Sick to Go to School?

I'm usually a good judge of when my kids are too sick to go to school or daycare. But other times — like when they're dragging but have no fever — I'm just not sure. How can I tell when they're well enough to go to school and when they should stay home?
– Allyson

Knowing whether a child is well enough to go to school can be tough for any parent. It often comes down to whether a child can still participate at school. Having a sore throat, cough, or mild congestion doesn't always mean a child can't handle class and other activities.

When in doubt, check in first. Most childcares, preschools, and grade schools have rules about when to keep kids home. For example, kids with strep throat need a dose or two of antibiotics first, which can mean staying home the day after diagnosis (or possibly longer).

Fever with no other symptoms usually isn't reason enough for a child to stay home. But many schools or childcare centers request that a child not return until at least 24 hours after a fever has broken naturally (without fever-reducing medicines).

Chickenpox sores should be dry and crusted over before kids go back to school (usually this takes about 6 days). Other contagious infections — like rubella, whooping cough, mumps, measles, and hepatitis A — have specific guidelines for returning to school. Your doctor can help you figure this out.

Lice, scabies, and ringworm shouldn't keep kids out of school. If the problem is found by the teacher or school nurse, the child should stay in school until the end of the day. Kids who get their first treatment after school should be able to return to the classroom the next morning.

Kids with colds, coughs, or pinkeye can go to school if they feel well enough, don't have a fever, and don't need so much care that they will burden the teachers. Some schools or childcare centers require time at home or a doctor's note for pinkeye, so ask about their policies.

Of course, never send a child to school who has a fever, is nauseated or vomiting, or has diarrhea. Kids who lose their appetite, are clingy or lethargic, complain of pain, are drooling with mouth sores, or who just don't seem like themselves should also take a sick day. If your child will need more care than the teacher can provide, it's only fair to the other kids that your child stay home.

Most important, go with your gut. You know your kids best. If your son has the sniffles but hasn't slowed down at home, chances are he's well enough for the classroom. But if he's been coughing all night and has a hard time getting up in the morning, he might need to take it easy at home.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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