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When is a child too sick for school?

Q. When should I keep my kids home from school due to illness? If I keep them home for every sniffle and sore throat, their academics will suffer. On the other hand, I don’t want my kids spreading germs.

Although this may seem like a simple question, the answer is not so simple. The American Academy of Pediatrics has guidelines for when children should be excluded from school or daycare due to illness; however, most school policies deviate from these guidelines.

Research shows that most illnesses are contagious and can spread before the child develops symptoms. On top of that, excluding children with minor illnesses from school has not been shown to reduce the spread of disease. For these reasons, a child with a common cold should be able to attend school.

On the other hand, if a child has a fever or illness that impairs his ability to participate in regular daily activities, he should not attend school. If your child has a bad cough, vomiting or diarrhea, then he should stay home until the symptoms resolve.

According to the AAP, fever alone should not be a reason for excluding a child from school; however, most school policies still use fever as a reason for exclusion. It’s also not necessary to keep a child with conjunctivitis (“pink-eye”) home, although most schools don’t agree.

If your child has a more serious illness such as chicken pox, measles or tuberculosis, consult his healthcare provider for guidance about preventing the spread of the disease and when he can return to school. 

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