Too sick for school?

A few simple guidelines can help you decide whether your child would do better at home or school.

Kids get sick. It's a simple and unavoidable reality. But it isn't always simple to decide whether your sick child should stay home from school.

Howard Taras, MD, fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommends asking yourself these questions:

Could your child spread the illness to others? Chickenpox and live lice are prime examples of reasons to keep your child at home. However, just nits (the eggs from lice) may not qualify.

Keep kids with mild cold symptoms at home if you can—and if you can't, instruct them to sneeze and cough into a tissue and wash their hands a lot.

Does your child need special care? If a normal school environment can't accommodate your child's needs, he or she should stay home. Examples include an injury, such as a broken bone that hasn't stabilized yet, and an illness that requires special medical attention, Dr. Taras says.

Fevers also belong in this category. If your child's temperature is over 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit, Dr. Taras says, your child needs to be monitored at home.

The only exception to this rule is chronic illness. If your child has regular, severe asthma; chronic headaches; or any other long-term illness that keeps him or her home regularly, talk to the school about a 504 plan, says Dr. Taras.

The number 504 refers to a federal law that requires public schools to make arrangements for children with chronic illnesses. If your child has severe asthma, for example, school staff should be trained to recognize the signs of an attack and give your child asthma medicine.

To qualify as chronic, an illness has to last, or be likely to last, for more than three months.

Will your child gain anything from going to school? If your child is too sick to participate in class, staying home is best. This doesn't mean he or she has to be at 100%, Dr. Taras says, but your child should stand to gain something from going.

Other factors

Some kids, just like some adults, simply aren't morning people, Dr. Taras says. This can affect how they feel both physically and emotionally. If your child asks to stay home more than once because of a minor complaint, such as a slight headache or stomachache, insist that he or she go to school anyway, Dr. Taras says.

If your child stays home but seems alert and healthy within a couple of hours, don't give up on the whole day, says Dr. Taras. Even if a child has already missed the first three hours, he or she can still go to school.

It's also a good idea to find out about the school's policies at the beginning of the school year. Rules may vary on when children are expected to stay home, Dr. Taras explains.

If the illness is serious enough for a doctor's visit, ask the doctor when your child should go back to school.

reviewed 1/10/2020

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