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When Should You Keep Your Teen Home From School

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Updated March 19, 2009

It can be difficult to know when to keep your child home from school. Some parents are laid back about the issue and others are more strict. One parent related to me her own mother's rules for missing school. This woman could stay home from school if she had one of the “three B's” - blood, bone or bile. Otherwise, she was on her way to the classroom! You probably have different (and more flexible!) rules, but probably based on what your parents did when you were young.

Parents often go with their gut instinct to determine when to keep a child home from school. There have been guidelines published by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Public Health Association that help pediatricians and schools determine if a child should be kept from going to school, or if he or she should be sent home from school. Knowing what some of these guidelines are can help parents decide if their child should stay home from school or not.

General criteria for excluding a child from school:

  • Fever accompanied by behavior change or rash. This includes a fever from an illness like the flu when the child is very tired, has body aches, and isn't as active as usual. It also includes common issues like chickenpox that causes a fever and a rash.

  • Signs or symptoms of severe illness like lethargy, uncontrolled coughing, irritability without a specific cause, or difficulty breathing. These can all be signs of a serious illness, and your teen should be seen right away if any of these are present.

  • Diarrhea or unexplained blood in the stool (blood can be from hard stools, changes in diet or medications, but not from a virus or bacteria).

  • Two or more instances of vomiting in a 24-hour period.

  • Persistent abdominal pain (continues for more than 2 hours) or intermittent abdominal pain associated with fever or other signs or symptoms.

  • Mouth sores with drooling.

  • Strep throat until your teen has been on antibiotics for 24 hours.

  • Any new or unusual rash that could be contagious.

  • An inability to participate comfortably in activities. This is very broad, and you will have to determine how uncomfortable your child will be in school. If the illness or issue will be very distracting to your teen, how much will he or she learn that day?

  • The school or facilities staff is unable to provide the level of care the child needs. This is specifically determined by the school or facility itself. You can find out more about the school's ability to care for your teen by talking to a school nurse or other medical staff.

If your teen fits any of these criteria, it is a good idea to keep him or her home from school. Additionally, make an appointment to see your pediatrician or family health care provider. Only your provider can tell you when your child will be well enough to return to school – and don't forget to get your doctor's note!

Sources:

Blazek, N. “Pediatricians should think twice before excluding children from school.” Infectious Diseases in Children. Jan 2009 22(1):8.

Caring for Our Children - National Health and Safety Performance Standards: Guidelines for Out-of-Home Child Care, Second Edition. American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, and National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care. Accessed January 24, 2008. http://nrc.uchsc.edu/CFOC/HTMLVersion/TOC.html

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