Is Your Child Too Sick for School?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 16, 2019

A sniffle. A cough. A sore throat. Children come down with illnesses big and small. Some are contagious, but some aren’t.

How do you know when to keep your child home from school?

Ask Yourself 3 Things

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends you answer a few key questions.

1. Does your child have a fever?Fevers of 101 F or more are generally a sign of illness, so children should stay home from school.

2. Is your child well enough to participate in class? If they seem too run down to get much out of their lessons, keep their home.

3. Does they have an illness like the flu or pinkeye? If you think they might, don't let them go back to school until you know they're not contagious anymore.

When Your Child Is Sick

Here’s what you need to keep an eye on:

Fever is a sign that your body is fighting the germs that are making you sick. It’s a common symptom of infections like flu. If it’s 101 F or higher, wait until your child is fever-free for at least 24 hours before sending them back to school.


Diarrheahappens because of an infection, food poisoning, or medications like antibiotics. It can lead to dehydration, so give them a lot of fluids to drink. Keep your child home until their stools are solid and your doctor gives the OK.

Vomitingis another way our bodies get rid of germs. It’s usually caused by a stomach virus or infection. Keep your child at home if home if they have vomited twice have vomited twice or more in the last 24 hours. They can go back to school after their symptoms clear up or the doctor says they're no longer contagious.

Severe cough and cold symptoms should keep your child home. A serious cough could be a symptom of contagious conditions like whooping cough, viral bronchitis, or croup. It can also be a warning sign of asthma or allergies.

Sore throats can be a symptom of a common cold or strep. If they have a mild cold, they can go to school. If your child has been diagnosed with strep throat, keep their at home for at least 24 hours after they start antibiotics.


Pinkeye (conjunctivitis) is contagious, and a child should stay home for the first 24 hours after treatment begins. Symptoms include eye redness, irritation, swelling, and pus.

Headachescan be a symptom of contagious illnesses like the stomach flu, flu, meningitis, and strep throat. Experts disagree on whether a child should be kept home. If they don't have any other signs of illness and feels fine, they can go to school.

Rashescan be a sign of contagious illnesses like chickenpox, bacterial meningitis, or impetigo (a skin infection). Keep your child home until they've been diagnosed. They can head back to the classroom after their symptoms are gone and the doctor gives the OK.

Ear infections aren't contagious. There's no need to keep a child with a mild earache home, as long as they feel well enough to concentrate.

Mild cold or respiratory symptoms don’t have to sideline your kid -- but keep in mind that even if their nose runs clear and their cough is mild, they may still pass the virus to somebody else. 

WebMD Medical Reference



American Academy of Pediatrics: "Keeping a Child Home From School."

Communicable Disease Epidemiology Program, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment: "Infectious Disease in School Settings."

New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: "What You Can Do to Stop Disease in Your Child's Day Care Center."

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