When to keep your child home from school

Does your child have a fever?

Keep them home with a temperature of 100.4 ℉ or above. They may return to school when they have  been at least 24 hours fever free without the use of Tylenol/Ibuprofen or other fever reducing medication. Fever is a symptom of illness, not an actual diagnosis, and usually indicates that the body is battling an infection. If the fever does not resolve in 2 to 3 days, or if your child appears sick with any fever, call your PCP to have your child evaluated.

Do you think your child has a contagious illness?

Unless your child’s PCP has cleared them to return to school, keep them home to avoid spreading it. If your child appears really sick, keep your child home and arrange an evaluation by your PCP that day. Call your PCP’s office for advice if you are not sure about your child’s condition or have questions about whether your child should stay home from school. Primary Care Providers have an answering service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So even after hours you will be able to reach someone for assistance. If you can’t get through to your PCP and you are really concerned, either call 911 or bring your child to the nearest emergency room for evaluation. See below for some examples of contagious illnesses.

If your child complains of not feeling well but otherwise has no definite symptoms, they can likely attend school. The school nurse or staff member will typically call you if something more develops. Be sure to contact your PCP if the complaints persist or other more definite sick symptoms develop. The effect on a family with a sick child is enormous – home, work and school lives are all impacted and often at the least convenient times! To complicate matters, it can be difficult deciding when to keep a child home and when to send them to school as usual. It is helpful to have a plan developed for someone to be available to care for your child in the event they are sent home from school or needs to stay home. Be sure to update your emergency phone numbers when there are changes. If you have these plans in place, you will not be caught off guard when the dreaded phone call comes. Please keep in mind that the school nurse by law cannot diagnose or treat any illnesses or injuries (beyond first aid) and will refer you to your PCP.

Sickness is a part of childhood, whether it’s a fever, sore throat, cough or just not feeling well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the typical child has 6 to 12 illnesses a year ranging from mild to severe. Illnesses can occur throughout the year, but usually cluster in the winter due to flu season. These illnesses can seem to spread throughout classrooms affecting other students, teachers, and family members. Families and schools need to balance the child’s school attendance with the risk of spreading the illness to others in the school. Sometimes even minor illnesses require the child to stay home just to prevent the further spread of a contagious disease.

Many illnesses can be stopped before they spread by reminding everyone to practice frequent hand washing, blowing nose into tissues, covering mouths when coughing or sneezing. If only it were so simple – even the best hygiene practices can’t avoid the spread of all winter illnesses. Sometimes staying home is the only way to benefit our kids as well as the school staff.

Do you think your child will be able to participate in school?

Sometimes there is that blurry area of not knowing whether or not to send your child to school. A good rule of thumb is to consider if your child will be able to focus on learning or participate in classroom activities. Things that could keep your child from fully participating in the classroom could include a painful sprain or injury, continual coughing or nose-blowing, an earache or ear infection, a headache or overwhelming fatigue. While not contagious, these circumstances can make learning tough and can be a distraction for other students, as well. Sometimes staying home to rest really is the best medicine.

Highly contagious agents:

May include but are not limited to the following:

Strep throat:

Signs include: sore throat, fever, swollen glands, abdominal pain, difficulty swallowing. They should be evaluated by a healthcare provider before returning to school. Call your child’s school and ask if strep throat is going around; if so, have your child tested. A child with a diagnosis of strep throat needs to stay out of school until they have been on  antibiotics for 24 hours.

Pink eye (conjunctivitis):

Symptoms of pinkeye include eye redness, irritation, swelling, itching or burning, light sensitivity, drainage, or overnight crusting of eyelashes. Students are allowed to attend school. We advise parents to keep children home if the symptoms are too much for them to be able to concentrate in school. Your child should see their PCP if there is yellow/green discharge from their eyes, or if their eyelashes are crusty. 


Not sure if it is contagious? When in doubt, keep them home until a healthcare provider has determined the cause. Many rashes will resolve spontaneously and are not reason alone to keep a child home from school. Any rash associated with symptoms such as trouble breathing or swallowing, fever, or ill appearance, should be evaluated by your PCP. Rashes that are itchy or scaly may be contagious and should be evaluated before sending a child back to school.

Head lice:

Students diagnosed with live head lice do not need to be sent home early from school; they can go home at the end of the day, be treated, and return to school after appropriate treatment has begun. Successful treatment should kill crawling lice. Nits may persist after treatment, combing and checking your child's hair daily is key to help prevent reinfestation. 


Severe cough:

Cold symptoms such as frequent cough or greenish nasal drainage should keep kids home from school. A serious cough could be a sign of contagious conditions like whooping cough, viral bronchitis, or croup. It can also be a sign of asthma or allergies. Please consult your PCP if the cough is productive (has phlegm) or is associated with fever or trouble breathing.

Mild cold or respiratory symptoms

There is no reason to keep children at home so long as their nasal drainage is clear and their cough is mild. Cough alone may not prevent your child from attending school unless it is interfering with a child’s sleep or ability to participate in school activities. Encourage fluids, plenty of rest, and treat the symptoms as needed to keep your child comfortable.

Please remember to communicate to the school or school nurse if your child is going to be absent due to illness each day they are out.