Is My Child Too Sick for School?

Sick child with mom on couch.
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Sometimes it’s easy to figure out when your child is too sick to go school. With telltale signs like vomiting, a high fever, even pink eye, you know when to keep a little one home.

But after you’ve both spent a restless night with a scratchy throat, hacking cough, a warm forehead or general malaise, parents of young children may find themselves wondering whether their sick child is or isn’t too sick to send to school.

While you don’t want to infect an entire classroom, there may be times when your child needs to head for the school bus. And, if you’re a working parent, you’re left to make a judgment call, which can be difficult.

Here’s our doctor-recommended advice on whether or not these conditions warrant keeping your kids at home:


Common colds are the main reason children miss school and adults miss work. Each year in the United States, there are millions of cases of the common cold. Adults average 2 or 3 colds per year, and children have even more, according to the National Institutes of Health.

If you suspect your child has a cold but a sick day isn’t realistic, make sure he or she is well-hydrated and treated for symptoms with over-the-counter medication. Teach little ones to avoid sneezing into their hands because they’re likely to spread germs by touching something like a doorknob, a school computer or a friend.

Conjunctivitis a.k.a. Pink Eye

It’s the most common eye problem kids can have. Adults, especially parents and teachers who spend a lot of time with kids, can get it too. Pink eye is highly contagious, and most cases are caused by a virus which doesn’t respond to an antibiotic. Bacterial conjunctivitis requires an antibiotic; your doctor will be able to determine if this is the case.

Conjunctivitis lasts a short time, usually about a week or less, and then goes away by itself or after treatment. Keep your child home until a doctor gives the OK to return to school.


Having a sore throat, cough or mild congestion doesn’t necessarily mean your child can't be active and participate in school. If your son has a stuffed-up nose but is still running around the house, chances are he's well enough for the classroom. On the other hand, if he's been coughing all night, or his cough is accompanied by phlegm, or he wakes up groggy, he may need to take it easy at home instead.


It’s a parent’s call on fevers of 100 degrees or less. Fevers of 101 and higher, however, are usually a sign of illness. Keep her home and don’t be too quick to send her back as soon as she appears to rebound. Kids should be fever-free without any medication for at least 24 hours before returning to school. Giving them acetaminophen to lower a fever and then sending them off to school isn’t right for them, their teachers or their classmates.


Keep kids with flu-like symptoms home for at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever, or signs of a fever, without the use of fever-reducing medicines.


Rashes can be a sign of contagious illnesses like chickenpox, bacterial meningitis, or impetigo (a skin infection). Keep your child home until she’s been diagnosed. Even if the rash isn’t contagious, you’ll put other parents and teachers at ease if you get a doctor’s note confirming that information.

Lack of Energy

Kids who lose their appetite, are clingy or lethargic, complain of pain, or who just don't seem to be acting like themselves should take a sick day as it may be a symptom of something more serious developing. Monitor them at home and keep in touch with their pediatrician.

Vomiting and Diarrhea

Keep kids home for the duration of a gastrointestinal illness plus at least an additional 24 hours.

Outsmarting School Germs

While there’s no protection against every germ at school, there are a few ways to reduce the risks:

  • Remind your children to wash their hands often, especially before eating
  • Place travel-size hand sanitizer in their backpacks
  • Postpone play dates with sick kids
  • Stay up-to-date on their vaccines, including the flu shot

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends yearly flu shots for all children ages 6 months and older. It’s best to have your child vaccinated as soon as the shot is available, ideally by October.

If you have questions or concerns about how to stay protected from the flu this year, talk with your health care provider.

Tips for Working Parents

If you’re a working parent, you know how inconvenient unexpected illnesses can be. Here are a few ideas to consider before your child becomes ill:

  • Save some personal days: For days like these, the easiest way out is to use paid time off. Save a few extra hours for child emergencies. If your company doesn’t provide PTO, talk to your supervisor in advance about the best plan of action if your child wakes up sick.
  • Have an emergency sitter list: Start a list of family, friends or care providers who could possibly be available at short notice. Keep their phone numbers and availability on hand.
  • Watch for warning signs: Be aware of early warning signs in your child that could predict an oncoming illness. Does your child get a tickle in her throat or a headache? Recognize the signs and tend to these immediately to try to ward off illness.

Remember, we’re here for you and your family through all of life’s ups and downs. Learn more about thechildren’s careat AdventHealth Waterman.

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