Should an Ill Child Attend School?

wiseGEEK Writer

Maintaining a good school attendance record is an important part of the learning process in schools. Children who have poor school attendance can easily fall behind in their classwork, and may have trouble following school rules when school attendance is inconsistent. Deciding whether your child should attend school when sick is part judgment call, and partly based on necessity. Sometimes protecting the other children in your child’s school is more important than school attendance, especially when your child is ill with a highly contagious illness.

Schools may have different policies regarding sick children.
Schools may have different policies regarding sick children.

While school attendance is vital, children who are very ill may not benefit much from a day spent in school. Younger children tend to have behavior regression when they’re not feeling well, which can create problems for the teacher and your child. Also, the conditions of school may not be conducive to recovering from an illness. For example, a child who must participate in physical education class when very sick may be easily tired.

A child with a contagious illness should not attend school.
A child with a contagious illness should not attend school.

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In some cases, an illness definitely trumps school attendance. Children with active cases of stomach flu, often extremely contagious, should not be in class. Children with fevers should also stay home whenever possible. A small fever in the morning can jump to a high fever by the afternoon, and should be closely monitored by a caregiver. Some schools also make rules specific to fevers and ask parents not to send children to school who have had a fever within the last 24 hours.

A child who has been sneezing should be kept home from school.
A child who has been sneezing should be kept home from school.

Certain illnesses can also be highly contagious and warrant not considering school attendance. For example, illnesses like chicken pox, measles, German measles, or mumps are all reasons for your child to stay home from school until a doctor deems the child is no longer contagious. Infections that are in the early stages of being treated, like strep throat, pneumonia, or bronchitis can also pose a threat to other children. In these cases, getting the child well by keeping him or her at home is more important than school attendance.

Some communities may have a sick daycare program where an ill child can go when they cannot attend school.
Some communities may have a sick daycare program where an ill child can go when they cannot attend school.

With some illnesses, a child may be ready to go back to school within a day or two. For example, most viruses that cause the common cold are most contagious before symptoms appear. As a cold progresses, less of the virus is shed through mucus and the child becomes less contagious. However, young children can have quite poor hygiene. If a child is going to cough or sneeze all over classmates, delaying school attendance for a few days should be considered.

Children suffering from a fever should be kept home from school.
Children suffering from a fever should be kept home from school.

Though it can be challenging for working parents, a really ill child needs to be considered first. In some communities there are sick daycare programs where a child can go to if one cannot get off work. One challenging aspect of these programs is they will be likely to expose one’s child to a variety of other illnesses, which could further threaten a school attendance record. Further, they are often quite expensive.

A child with strep throat should not return to school prior to finishing her or his antibiotic medicine.
A child with strep throat should not return to school prior to finishing her or his antibiotic medicine.

It’s virtually impossible to keep children from ever getting ill in school, because so many children do attend school when they are ill. However, good handwashing practices can be started early to help a child reduce their chances of getting sick. Additionally, by not forcing school attendance when a child is really sick or very contagious, one can help other children in the class minimize exposure to illnesses.

A child with chicken pox should not attend school.
A child with chicken pox should not attend school.
A child with a cough should probably remain at home.
A child with a cough should probably remain at home.

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