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Too sick for school?

A young girl is sitting on a couch with a thermometer in her mouth and holding a box of tissues.

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

Kids get sick. It's a reality that every parent knows. But it isn't always easy to decide whether your sick child should stay home from school.

Asking yourself these four questions could help you decide:

1. What is the school's policy on sick kids? Rules may vary, and some schools may want kids to stay home when they have specific symptoms or conditions—or have been around someone with a serious illness, such as COVID-19. Find out what resources the school may have available if your child needs to switch to virtual learning.

2. Could your child be contagious? It's important to keep your child at home if they have an illness that could spread to other students and teachers, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Besides COVID-19, common examples include:

  • Chickenpox.
  • Strep throat.
  • Mumps.
  • Whooping cough.
  • Lice (until after the first treatment has begun).
  • The flu.

Children with mild cold symptoms (like a runny nose) can sometimes go to school. But it's a good idea to keep them home during flu season. Some cold symptoms can be similar to those of the flu and COVID-19. And it can be hard to tell for sure which illness your child has without consulting a doctor.

3. Does your child need special care? If a normal school environment can't accommodate your child's needs, they should stay home. That might be the case, for instance, if they have a fever that has to be monitored or a broken bone that hasn't been stabilized.

Chronic illnesses are an exception to this rule. If your child has a long-term illness or disability, talk to their doctor and the school about a 504 Plan or Individualized Education Program, which can make sure their needs are being met.

4. Is your child too sick to participate? If your child isn't feeling well enough to take part in classroom activities, staying home is best.

Check in with a doctor

When in doubt about whether your child should go to school, call a school nurse or your child's doctor. If the illness is serious enough for a doctor's visit, ask when your child should be able to go back to classes.

If your child does go to school, make sure the school has a way to reach you by phone if your child starts feeling worse and needs to go home.

Better yet, check out these tips on helping your child stay healthy.

reviewed 11/25/2020

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