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Is your child too sick for school?
September 14, 2023
Girl on the sofa blowing her nose and reading a book

    Is your child too sick for school?

    It’s just a few weeks into the new school year and your child isn’t feeling well. It seems to happen every year, inevitably when you have a big meeting at work, doctor’s appointment or other plans that are difficult to miss. They can still go to school, right?

    Dr. Bergen Nelson, a pediatrician, mom and former elementary school teacher, is uniquely qualified to weigh in on the matter.

    “As a mom, I understand how difficult it can be when our routines are interrupted by illness,” said Dr. Nelson. “That said, we owe it to our children – and their peers and teachers – to keep them home when they’re not feeling well, especially as we head into cold and flu season and we’re seeing COVID numbers tick back up. Here are a few things to consider when deciding if your child is too sick for school.”

    Are these seven symptoms a reason to miss school?


    Many things can make the body temperature rise a bit. A temperature of 100.4°F or higher, though, is a sign of infection and germs that can be shed and spread – which also means your child should stay home from school. Fever-reducing medications can help lower their temperature, but they’ll still be contagious. Schools and childcare centers typically have a rule that children must be fever free for 24 hours without medication before returning to school.

    Vomiting or diarrhea

    Vomiting and diarrhea can be reactions to food, but they can also be the result of a contagious virus such as norovirus. To avoid the risk of sharing illness with others, kids should stay home for at least 24 hours after their last bout of vomiting or diarrhea – and until they can keep food and liquids down without getting sick. Plus, it’s always better to be in the comfort of your own home when dealing with tummy troubles.


    This can be a tough one. Nerves and stress can certainly cause an uneasy feeling in the belly. On the other hand, if stomach pain is severe, lasts more than two hours and/or is accompanied by a fever, it’s best to stay home.


    A slight cough alone isn’t usually a reason to stay home. If it were, some kids would miss more school days than they attend! Persistent cough or coughing fits are a reason to miss school, however. Not only will steady coughing be disruptive for learning, but it is also likely to share germs with classmates and teachers.

    Sore throat

    A sore throat is another symptom that can vary in severity. A mild sore or scratchy throat due to allergies is typically no big deal. If the sore throat is accompanied by fever, headache or stomachache – or if the throat is bright red or has white spots – your child should not go to school. These are signs of strep throat or a virus that could easily spread.


    Rashes can be caused by all kinds of things, from the heat or an allergic reaction to a virus that spreads easily like hand, foot and mouth disease or roseola. If the rash is your child’s only symptom and they’re otherwise feeling okay, it’s probably safe to go to school. A rash that is spreading rapidly or comes with fever, weeping sores, pain or behavioral changes does require a consultation with a healthcare provider to determine its cause and contagiousness.

    Pink eye

    Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, can be viral or bacterial. It generally shows up in the form of a pink or red color in the whites of the eyes, discharge, crusting of the eyelids or lashes, swelling and itching/burning. Pink eye spreads very easily, so it’s best to err on the side of caution and have your child checked by a healthcare professional before returning to school.

    For many kids with chronic conditions like allergies or eczema, a mild symptom like a tickle in the throat or a slight rash might be typical and not concerning for an infection. You know your child best. If something seems out of the ordinary, it is always best to ask their doctor. If they’re acting sick, have little appetite or just don’t quite seem like themselves, keeping them home and encouraging extra rest may be just what they need to return to school happy and healthy in a day or two.

    Preventing the spread of infection at school and in the community

    As we head into fall and winter, remind your kids to practice good infection prevention measures, like sneezing and coughing into their elbow, washing hands thoroughly and frequently, and not sharing food, straws, lip balm or other items that are used in or around the mouth. Make sure they’re up to date on their vaccines and that everyone in the family gets their flu shots too.

    Keep up with the latest information to keep your family healthy

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