To School or Not to School?

This time of year sees a surge in viral illnesses—colds, stomach bugs, and the like—and they spread like wildfire through classrooms at schools. Missing school is hard (as is missing work to be with a sick child) and it’s sometimes hard to tell whether your child should go to school or not.

Here are some general guidelines to help in the decision.

  • Is your child well enough to participate in all activities? If not, they probably don’t belong at school.
  • How contagious is the illness? This one’s hard. Almost everything kids get is contagious, but some are more so. However, super-contagious infections like pink eye, strep throat, impetigo, and head lice present such problems for schools that the school nurse or your pediatrician can often share some firm guidelines for when a child can return to school.
  • Any fever over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit should keep a child home. And your child should be fever-free for at least 24 hours—without the use of any fever-reducing medications—before returning to school.
  • Diarrhea and/or vomiting should keep a child home for at least 24 hours. These illnesses are really contagious. And, as long as a child has diarrhea, they should be considered contagious. Good hand washing is the key to helping to prevent the spread of these sicknesses.
  • Coughing is tricky because a cough can sometimes last several weeks after a respiratory illness. In general, kids should be able to go to school if they seem otherwise well and healthy and just have a lingering cough. (Teach kids to cough into their elbows instead of their hands, so they don’t spread the germs via everything they touch.)

In general, if you wouldn’t want your child exposed unnecessarily to a particular illness, assume other parents feel the same way. If you are unsure as to whether to send your child to school, your school nurse or pediatrician can often help guide you.

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