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Too Sick for School?

18th Jul 2005

Mommy I don’t feel well. Sometimes it seems like we need a medical degree to determine if our child is too sick for school. According to family physician Dr. Cathryn Kuzyk, “It’s sometimes quite difficult to know if a mildly ill child should be kept home from school or when a recovering child should be sent back. The decision is made more difficult when alternate child-care arrangements have to be made, or when a parent must stay home from work to care for the child.”

Here are some common-sense guidelines from Cathryn that you can use to help you make the decision. Remember that these are just guidelines and that numerous other factors may need to be considered as well. If in doubt, call your family doctor.

Whenever a child has a fever, they should not go to school. This is because fevers virtually always indicate that an infection is present. Even though the most common infections are relatively benign viral respiratory infections such as colds and influenza, your child should rest, be kept well-hydrated and be kept away from other children and adults to prevent the spread of the illness. If the fever disappears, but the child still has a cough, you should still keep them home until the cough is infrequent and not ‘wet’ or ‘chesty’ sounding.

A child with a continuous nasal discharge is also considered infectious and should be at home.

Children who have been put on antibiotics for ear, respiratory or urinary tract infections can generally be sent back to school whenever their fever is gone and they are no longer in discomfort.

Children who have been vomiting should be kept home until they have been able to keep food and liquids down for at least 12 to 16 hours and are back to their usual energy level.

If they have had diarrhea, they may return to school when the bowel movements are back to or nearly back to their usual consistency and frequency and are not so urgent as to cause accidents.

Chickenpox is a highly infectious illness, however, it is most infectious before the appearance of the skin lesions (pox). The new recommendation is that your child may return to school as soon as he/she feels well enough, even if numerous pox are still visible and not scabbed.

Sprained ankles and knees are more common in older children. In general, if there is a significant amount of swelling present, the child should spend at least one day resting with the leg elevated, applying ice packs frequently. When the swelling has subsided and the child can walk, with very little limping, they may return to school.

Sometimes, you’ll need to rely on your instincts, especially when your child wakes up just not feeling well and with no obvious symptoms. According to Cathyrn “Whether or not you keep your child at home will depend on how unusual this behavior is for that child and whether you have any reason to suspect that it may be school-avoidance behavior. Giving your child the benefit of the doubt is probably worth it.”

By Ellen Percival & Sherry Kerr, publishers, Calgary’s Child Magazine

Reprinted with permission by Calgary’s Child Magazine, Calgary’s most trusted parenting publication. Pick it up at over 600 locations for more information call 241-6066 or visit

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