Massachusetts Medical Society: Attendance at School: Should My Child Be in School with This Illness?

Attendance at School: Should My Child Be in School with This Illness?

Children are sometimes kept home from school for reasons other than illness. Unnecessary absence from school may have a bad effect on a student's attitude, work habits, and progress. Use your own common sense and remember: Sick children belong at home. Well children belong in school.

The information in this pamphlet is not intended as medical advice, but as simple guidelines to follow until you can contact your doctor or healthcare provider for advice.

At your child's annual check-up, it is wise to discuss what should be done in the event of illness, how and when to contact the doctor, what medications should be available in your home, and possibly even a home medical reference and first-aid kit.

  • Notify your doctor during office hours, or immediately, if any symptoms become severe.
  • Notify school when your child will be absent.
  • If both parents work, arrange for alternative care and notify the school of these plans.
  • Remember: the best way to prevent infection is handwashing.

Stomach ache, Vomiting, Diarrhea

A child with vomiting and/or diarrhea should be kept at home until symptoms have resolved for approximately 12 hours and the child is able to keep down the food or liquid. Consult your doctor if fever and stomach pains persist or your child has poor oral intake and appears dehydrated (dry mouth, no tears, sunken eyes, urinates less than 4 times in 24 hours). Remember to wash your hands frequently.

When you call you doctor, you need to know:

  • When the illness began
  • How often the vomiting is occurring
  • If your child has lost weight
  • If your child also has a fever
  • If your child is able to drink and retain liquids.


Earache: Consult your doctor during office hours. To relieve pain, give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen as recommended by your child's doctor. A child need not miss school due to an ear infection.

Toothache: Call your dentist.

Headache: A child should be kept at home if headaches are severe and do not respond to acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Consult your doctor should the headaches persist.

Cold, Sore Throat, Cough

Children average six to eight colds per year. If cold and cough symptoms are associated with a fever or they do not readily improve, call your doctor. Your child may attend school if there is no fever.

A sore throat, in conjunction with a fever and swollen glands, may indicate strep throat. Call your doctor during office hours to have your child evaluated. Children are no longer contagious after 24 hours on antibiotics.

When you call your doctor, you need to know:

  • When the symptoms began
  • If your child has a fever
  • If there have been any contagious contacts
  • The type of cold medicines you have at home.

Red Eyes

When the white part of the eye appears red and produces a yellow or green crusty discharge:

Call your doctor during office hours should these symptoms persist. Your child may have conjunctivitis, a common but troublesome condition which may be a contagious infection. Your child may need an eye ointment and may attend school after 24 hours of treatment. Remember to wash your hands frequently. Give your child a separate towel and washcloth.


Your child may attend school with a temperature of less than 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fevers are generally signs of infection. Make sure that you have a thermometer at home and can readily take your child's temperature. Consult your doctor for the best anti-fever medication for your child, and if the fever is associated with other symptoms.


A rash is usually the sign of a viral illness. It also may be a reaction to a medication or chemical (plant, detergents). If your child has an unusual rash or it is associated with a fever, contact your doctor. Keep your child home from school until you have discussed the rash with your doctor.

When you call your doctor, you need to know:

  • The location, color, and texture of the rash
  • When the rash began
  • If your child has a fever
  • If your child has been exposed to other children with contagious illnesses.

This information was developed by the Charles River District Medical Society Alliance, the Massachusetts Medical Society Alliance, and the Massachusetts Medical Society.

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