When should I take my sick child to school?


When should I take my sick child to school?

9:29 p.m. PT Feb. 17, 2017

We’ve all been there.

By some miracle, your child has made it through cold and flu season unscathed. But then someone comes to school ill and it feels like that person gets anyone they so much as look at sick.

Maybe their parents made them go because they don’t have the time off or money to afford a babysitter, daycare or stay home. Or maybe they are worried about missing important information and decide to power through.

According to the Center for Disease Control’s weekly flu reports, flu activity continues to increase and is widespread in most of the United States, with Oregon at a “moderate” level of flu activity.

Health professionals say it is important to know when to stay home or keep your child home.

When to stay home

By state law, Oregon schools are required to have prevention and treatment services and policies for those inevitable times when staff and students get sick.

State guidelines offer a letter to parents, posing the question, “When should my child stay home?”

Students should be excluded from school if they exhibit:

  • Fever greater than 100.5 degrees
  • Vomiting
  • Stiff neck or a headache with fever
  • Any rash with or without fever
  • Unusual behavior change, such as irritability, lethargy, or somnolence
  • Jaundice (yellow color or skin or eyes)
  • Diarrhea (three watery or loose stools in one day with or without fever)
  • Skin lesions that are “weepy” (fluid or pus-filled)
  • Colored drainage from eyes
  • Brown/green drainage from nose with fever of greater than 100.5 degrees
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath; serious, sustained cough
  • Symptoms or complaints that prevent the student from participating in his/her usual school activities, such as a persistent cough, (with or without the presence of fever) or if the student requires more care that the school staff can safely provide.

It’s probably OK to go back to school when:

  • Temperature below 100 degrees (orally) for a minimum of 24 hours without the use of Tylenol or other fever-reducing medicine
  • Rash disappears and you get written or phone consent from doctor to school nurse
  • Discharge must be gone or the student must have a written or phone consent from doctor to the school nurse
  • Symptom-free of vomiting or diarrhea for 24 hours.
  • Symptom-free or student must have been on antibiotics for 24 hours or have a written or phone consent from doctor to the school nurse. Antibiotics are not effective for viral illnesses. When antibiotics are prescribed for bacterial infections, take all medications as prescribed until gone.
  • Written or phone consent from doctor to school nurse (concerning stools, urine or discolored skin or eyes)

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Karen Landers, a doctor with the Marion County Health Department, said there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but, generally speaking, if the child is unable to participate in regular activities, it’s probably best she or he stays home to rest.

She said a fever usually means there is an ability to transmit the illness, meaning they are contagious and could get others sick.

If the child needs to go to school, Landers suggest they practice proper coughing and cleansing strategies to not spread the illness — this also goes for people wanting to avoid getting sick.


Wash your hands thoroughly before you eat, after you go to the restroom or are exposed to feces, and when you blow your nose. Teach children proper hand-washing techniques.

Landers said the temperature of the water doesn’t matter, but you want to scrub with soap and water for 15 to 20 seconds, allowing the water to wash over and flush germs off.

A trick you can use to pass the time is to hum or sing the alphabet song, the Jeopardy theme song, or Happy Birthday to yourself twice.

“It’s longer than you might think,” she said.

If you can’t consistently access a sink, alcohol sanitizer of 60 percent alcohol could do the trick. Landers said it doesn’t work on all illnesses, but for common colds and things of the like, rubbing a generous amount until it is gone in about 15 seconds will serve a similar purpose to washing your hands correctly.

Make sure any soil, dirt on the hands is brushed off first before using sanitizer.

Landers also said to cough into the crook of your elbow, inside your jacket or into a tissue. She said to avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth where germs can more easily get into the mucous membranes and make you sick.

Though it might seem and look silly, she said people should also avoid touching common surfaces that others who are sick may have touched — including bathroom doors and elevator buttons — by using a tissue or paper towel, or another part of the body besides the hands, such as the elbow, knee or hip.

“It’s not possible to eliminate (all illnesses in schools), but it can be minimized,” she said.

A parent’s perspective

Brandi Jones, co-president of the Parent Club at Highland Elementary School in Salem, has two children at the school and said most parents in the school are “really big on (the kids) being present for class … and knowing the curriculum,” even if that means coming in sick.

Like other schools, students and staff at Highland have experienced a slight uptick in sickness going around, Jones said.

Ultimately, she said, it’s the parents’ decision if they think the child is able to come to school, but it is important that the school continues to teach staff and students the proper steps to avoid getting sick or spreading it to others.

Lynn Lanham, the program associate of health services for the Salem-Keizer School District, said the administration does not have resources to offer parents when they need to take home a sick child but are not able to come get their child, but they are open to ideas.

“We do understand the stress and pressure that working parents go through when they have a sick child,” she said. “It can be difficult to find a daycare that accepts a sick child, particularly with little notice.”

Veronica Franco works as the community coordinator for Highland.

She said when students are throwing up or have a fever, the school calls the parents and has the student wait in one of the health rooms. Administrators aren’t able to give the students medicine if parents haven’t signed a specific form, but they can offer them water, a restroom and a private room to rest until they can go home.

Franco also helps parents find health care providers in the area who can see the student last-minute if needed.

“If it is just a cough or a runny nose, they’re probably fine,” she said. “Those things sometimes take a while to get rid of, but they can still come to school.”

Above all, Franco said, the most important thing is having a strong line of communication between the school, parents, and physician to figure out the source of the sickness and get the students the care they need.

For more information from the Marion County Health Department, go to www.co.marion.or.us/HLT or call 503-454-6108 .

Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate and Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist

Published by Natalie Pate

Natalie Pate is a freelance journalist and author based in Salem, Oregon. She wrote about education for more than seven years at the Statesman Journal and now covers education and other topics throughout the Pacific Northwest. She is originally from Colorado and earned her B.A. in Politics and French from Willamette University.

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