Is Your Child Too Sick for School?

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 she seems too run down to get much out of her lessons, keep her home.

3. Does she have an illness like the flu or pinkeye? If you think she might, don't let her go back to school until you know he's 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 her back to school.

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

Vomiting is another way our bodies get rid of germs. It’s usually caused by a stomach virus or infection. Keep your child at home if she has vomited twice or more in the last 24 hours. She can go back to school after her symptoms clear up or the doctor says she’s 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 she has a mild cold, she can go to school. If your child has been diagnosed with strep throat, keep her at home for at least 24 hours after she starts 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.

Headaches can 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 she doesn't have any other signs of illness and feels fine, she can go to school.

Rashes can be a sign of contagious illnesses like chickenpox, bacterial meningitis, or impetigo (a skin infection). Keep your child home until she’s been diagnosed. She can head back to the classroom after her 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 she feels well enough to concentrate.

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

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 16, 2019



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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