Took Sick for School?

5 tips to help you decide whether your child should be kept home from school.




It’s decision time. Your child must get ready for the morning school bus, but he or she is feeling sick. You’re pretty sure it’s not a serious illness—and you have a busy day planned. Should you keep the child at home? These five tips can help you make the call.

  1. KEEP A CHILD WITH A FEVER HOME. Different schools and daycares have their own definitions of fever, but many consider a fever to be a temperature of 100 or more. “A reading of 100.4 or higher when taken orally and in more than just instance is an indication to stay home,” says Scott Zucker, M.D., a pediatrician at PediatriCare Associates in Fair Lawn. Oral temperatures can be skewed if the child just drank something hot or cold. If you use an ear device, be sure ear canals are clean. If you’re in doubt about the thermometer’s accuracy, take your own temperature too.
  2. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. A stuffy nose, a sore throat, sneezing or even a light cough isn’t an absolute reason to miss school; many healthy children have seven to 10 colds per year. But kids who are lethargic, coughing heavily and showing other signs they need extra care aren’t going to get much out of school, and they’re probably infectious—and likely to be disruptive.
  3. DON’T DISCRIMINATE AGAINST OLDER KIDS. You’re probably more likely to send an older child to school because he or she may tough it out—and should know enough not to sneeze or cough on his or her friends. But Dr. Zucker says the same rules should apply for kids of all ages. “Nobody should be in school with a fever or if they’re contagious to others.”
  4. HEED THE SIGNS. Depending on the circumstances, one episode of vomiting may not mandate a day at home. Neither does a cold in a child with asthma if peak flows are good. But “diarrhea, sore throat that lasts more than four hours, especially with a fever, and large amounts of green nasal discharge that persists” all justify an absence, Dr. Zucker says.
  5. CALL YOUR DOCTOR. “We recommend parents wait 24 hours to call us because sometimes the cause of fever is not obvious right away,” Dr. Zucker advises. But if your concern lingers or something doesn’t feel right, be sure to seek medical advice.

PLAN AHEAD FOR YOUR YOUNGSTER’S NEXT SICK DAY 

Don’t wait until your child has to miss school to figure out how you’ll handle it.

  • KNOW YOUR SCHOOL DISTRICT’S SICK-CHILD POLICIES. Do certain contagious bugs mean mandatory absence? Will your child need a note when he or she returns?
  • HAVE A NETWORK. Is the babysitter or childcare provider prepared to deal with a mild illness? Have you identified friends, neighbors or relatives who can bail you out in an emergency—and agreed to do the same for them?
  • DECIDE WHO’S ON DUTY. If one parent has to take off work to look after a sick child, will you take turns? Will it depend on whose job duties are more critical that day?
  • HAVE A WORK-AT-HOME PLAN. Do you have a home computer on which you can work while you tend to a sick youngster? What is your company’s policy on time off to care for sick children?
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