When to keep your child home from school

Does your child have a fever?

Keep him/her home with a temperature of 100.0 or above. He/she may return to school when he/she has 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 doctor to have your child evaluated.

Do you think your child has a contagious illness?

Unless a doctor has cleared him/her to return to school, keep him/her home to avoid spreading it. If your child appears really sick, keep your child home and arrange an evaluation by your doctor that day. Call your doctor’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. Physicians 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 doctor 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, he/she can likely attend school. The school nurse or staff member will typically call you if something more develops. Be sure to contact your pediatrician 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 primary care physician

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 noses 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.

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. He/she should be evaluated by a doctor 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 on antibiotics for 24 hours.

Pink eye (conjunctivitis):

Needs to be treated by a doctor. Children should stay home from school for the first 24 hours after treatment begins. Symptoms of pinkeye include eye redness, irritation, swelling, itching or burning, light sensitivity, drainage, or overnight crusting of eyelashes.


Not sure if it is contagious? When in doubt, keep them home until a doctor 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 physician. Rashes that are itchy or scaly may be contagious and should be evaluated before sending a child back to school.

  • Impetigo: Skin rash caused by a bacterial infection which is often found around the nose, mouth and face. It is noted to have a yellow crusty appearance. Children may return to school 24 hours after treatment begins.
  • Chicken pox: May return to school once lesions have scabbed over.

Head lice:

Needs to be treated at home, may return once no live lice are found.


May return if both have resolved and child is tolerating food.

  • Diarrhea is often the result of infection, food poisoning, or a side effect to medications like antibiotics. Keep children home until stools are formed and your doctor gives the okay. Make sure your sick child stays well-hydrated. Diarrhea that is bloody or associated with fever, abdominal pain, or vomiting should be evaluated by your doctor.
  • Vomiting is another way for the body to rid itself of the germs making it sick, and is usually caused by a stomach virus or stomach infection. Keep children home if they've vomited twice or more in the last 24 hours. They can return to school after symptoms clear up or your doctor says they're no longer contagious

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 doctor if the cough is productive (has phlegm) or is associated with fever or trouble breathing.

Mild cold or respiratory symptoms

These are 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.