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Is My Child Too Sick to Go to School?

I'm usually a good judge of when my kids are too sick to go to school or childcare. But other times — like when they're dragging but have no fever — I'm not sure. And the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic makes it even harder to know what to do. How can I tell when it's OK for them to go and when they should stay home?
– Allyson

Being sure that a child is well enough to go to school can be tough for any parent. It often comes down to whether the child can still participate at school. Having a sore throat, cough, or mild congestion doesn't always mean kids can't handle class and other activities.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, though, health experts ask that families keep sick kids home. Even mild symptoms like sore throat, cough, or a headache can be signs of a COVID-19 infection that can spread to teachers or other kids. During the pandemic and after it's over, kids should stay home when they have symptoms like a fever over 100.4°F, diarrhea, vomiting, or trouble breathing.

When in doubt, check with the school. Schools have guidelines about what families should do during the pandemic if their kids get sick. It’s also important to report that your child is sick, so the school staff can check to see if others might have been exposed to your child.

As for other types of infections, chickenpox sores should be dry and crusted over before kids go back to school (usually this takes about 6 days). Kids with strep throat need a dose or two of antibiotics first, which can mean staying home the day after diagnosis (or possibly longer). Other contagious infections — like rubella, whooping cough, mumps, measles, and hepatitis A — have specific guidelines for returning to school. Your doctor can help you figure this out.

Lice, scabies, and ringworm shouldn't keep kids out of school. If the problem is found by the teacher or school nurse, the child should stay in school until the end of the day. Kids who get their first treatment after school should be able to return to the classroom the next morning.

You know your kids best. A child who has the sniffles but hasn't slowed down at home is likely well enough for the classroom. But one who coughed all night and had a hard time getting up in the morning might need to take it easy at home.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: October 2021