February 20th, 2009
03:27 PM ET

Should I keep my child home from school?

By Jennifer Pifer-Bixler
CNN Medical Senior Producer

Last week my in-laws came over to watch my 5-year-old stepdaughter while my husband ran an errand. After a few minutes of visiting with Grandma and Grandpa, Arden announced that she wanted to take a nap. Nap? This is NOT a child who volunteers to nap. When she woke up, my husband put his hand on her forehead. Arden was hot. He then took her temperature. His suspicions were confirmed. She had a 102-degree fever. Arden slurped down some grape-flavored medicine and headed off to bed. For the next few days, our typically active 5-year-old was a couch potato. Apple juice, a fuzzy blanket and "Hannah Montana" were her constant companions.

I don't know about you, but sometimes as a parent, I’m not sure how “bad” it has to be to keep my child home from school. Some parents send their kids to school coughing and sneezing, while other parents let their kids take "mental health" days. For some parents who work outside the home, the issue can be complicated by financial concerns: If they don't work, they don't get paid. So when should you keep your kid home from school? Here are some guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Does she have a fever?

Generally, a fever over 101 degrees or a fever at the beginning of an illness should be a sign that your child should stay home.

Does he feel well enough to participate in class?

Every kid and every illness is different. Some sick kids feel good enough to concentrate and get something out of going to school. Other kids are so out of it, they are better off staying at home.

Is she contagious?

If so, keep her at home. As any teacher will tell you, classrooms can be like petri dishes. Kids can infect one another over and over. It's not fair to other children if your child brings germs to school. If you are not sure whether you should keep your child at home, talk with your pediatrician.

I want to know what you think: Have you ever sent your child to school sick? What's your rule of thumb? Also, for those of you with older kids, do you ever let them take “mental health” days? The parents I know are really divided over that. I am curious what you think.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.