When Kids Get “Sick” Are They Too Sick to Go to School?

Making the decision to keep a child home from school can be tricky.

When a child wakes up with the sniffles, you check to see if his or her forehead is warm to the touch – or at least that’s what we did first when our son and daughter were of school age because that’s what our moms did when we were young. Today, you grab the digital thermometer and swipe it across the child’s forehead to check for an above normal temperature.

If it’s a low-grade fever, say at or below 100, you have a decision to make. Should the child get ready and go to school, or should this be the day to stay home? According to a national poll conducted by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, more than likely you will decide to send them off to school (with your fingers’ crossed). You hope the child makes it through the day okay without reporting to the school nurse.

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests these general guidelines. You should keep the child home if:

  1. If fever is present.
  2. If the child is not well enough to participate in class.
  3. If you think the child may be contagious to the other children.

The poll found that symptoms were key to the decision, but the suggestions were not always followed.. Eighty-percent of parents questioned were not likely to send a child to school with diarrhea (thank goodness!). Surprisingly, only 58% of parents said they would keep their child home if they were vomiting. The odds of sending children to school with a slight fever were about 50-50 with 49% saying they would keep them home. But only one in eight parents would give their children the chance to recover from a runny nose, dry cough and no fever at home.

A factor in the decision is who can stay home with the sick child. The poll found that 11% of parents said not wanting to miss work was a “very important” factor. In families with two working parents, one must stay home with the child unless a grandparent or another adult can provide care. Another 18% said not being able to find someone to stay home with their sick child was “very important.”

Sending the child off to school runs the risk of getting a late morning phone call that your child is ill and needs you to break away from your job to collect him or her. Once you’ve brought the child home, you check to see if you can get in to see your pediatrician. If not, then you’ll probably wind up at an urgent care or retail clinic because if they’re still sick the next day, they will miss another day of school and you will have to stay home again.

Some schools have implemented telemedicine programs to make it easier for a sick child to be seen by a healthcare provider in the school nurse’s office. These schools have made arrangements with primary care providers to examine sick children via telemedicine. They have informed consent forms signed by their parents to allow for medical treatment. If the child needs a prescription, it can be sent to the family’s preferred pharmacy. In this way, a parent can pick up the child, and the prescription, on the way home.

There is no guarantee that the child will feel good enough the next morning to go to school, but the fact that they’ve gotten a jump on the problem improves their chances of a quicker recovery.

GlobalMed offers healthcare delivery systems that work for both children and parents in the school setting. A well-planned school-based telemedicine system makes it more convenient for parents and allows their children an opportunity to get well so they don’t miss a lot of classroom time. A number of districts have taken advantage of USDA telemedicine grants that pay the start-up costs of a system. You can learn more about them HERE at GlobalMed.

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