"Mmmoooommmm ..." That raspy little call in the wee hours of the morning can jolt a mother out of bed faster than any alarm.
"Mmmoooommmm ..." That raspy little call in the wee hours of the morning can jolt a mother out of bed faster than any alarm. Next comes the cough, a sneeze, a sigh. You make the call on the illness, and next - call the school for a sick day.
But what warrants a day off? We talked to teachers, school nurses, and pediatricians to get their insights as to what illnesses shouldn't enter the classroom.
How high, how long?
All schools have their own policies and guidelines for keeping children home from school. Most closely follow the guidelines of "standard precaution" set forth by the Ohio Department of Health. These guidelines basically state that any bodily fluids may hold a contagious germ and should be cautioned.
Moderate coughs, runny noses, and sneezes are no reason to keep a child home. If we all stayed home because of a cold, there would be no one in school from November to March. But it's important to look for other signs and symptoms.
A general rule of thumb is to give your child 24 hours from the conclusion of questionable symptoms. Schools state that if your child has a fever over 100 degrees, vomits or has diarrhea, they should stay home for 24 hours past the last episode. This rule also applies if your child is given an antibiotic.
But pediatricians advise that a fever is a symptom, not an illness in itself. But when a child has a fever, assess if she will feel well enough to want to participate in activities. The American Academy of Pediatrics connects kids' health to their effectiveness in school.
What worries Janice Cook, a second-grade teacher in the Canal Winchester school district, are children walking into her classroom who have flushed faces, are lethargic, have hound dog coughs, really sore throats, or body aches. She's experienced a number of children even at this young age coming to school with headaches and migraines.
"When in doubt, keep them home," advised Emily Mershon, a teacher at Epiphany Lutheran Preschool in Centerville. Children learn a lot through play and interactions, and if they don't feel like participating, they aren't getting much from their school day. Younger children don't have the vocabulary to communicate what's wrong, but they will show it in other ways, so it's important to notice if your child isn't acting right: is he playing, eating, or overly tired?
Once children get older, it can be tricky to determine the seriousness of an illness. Kids catch on very quickly to key phrases and symptoms that get them a day off - stomache aches, headaches, or other ailments that can't be measured. It's important to see their overall picture of health to determine if it's an illness or a case of school-itis. If your child is frequently sick during the week, but fine on weekends, he may have other reasons he doesn't want to go to school. Talk with him to see if something else is going on that prevents him from liking school.
Germs that go beyond the classroom
Parents need to consider how a child's illness spreads beyond the classroom. Wendy Hamby, a kindergarten teacher in the Dublin school district, shared a story of a parent who sent her child into Wendy's classroom with the bright red, slapped-cheeked appearance of Fifth's Disease. It's highly contagious, but most children aren't greatly affected by it. But Wendy was pregnant at the time and Fifth's can be harmful to a growing fetus. Anything your child brings into the classroom spreads and gets brought home to younger siblings, grandparents, and possibly pregnant relatives in which the illness could pose a much greater risk.
School nurse Patti Pagan also works in the Dublin school district and stressed the importance of not only keeping your child home when she is sick, but also teaching her proper sneezing and coughing etiquette-like sneezing and coughing into her elbow or a tissue (not into her hands). Afterward she should throw away the tissue and wash her hands immediately (and wash them properly with warm water, lathering up the soap, and using a fast friction motion across the entire hand surface for 20 seconds). Even though hand washing is a regular occurrence in schools, one swipe across a face followed by touching a germy surface puts more kids at risk.
Your pediatrician or school nurse can answer any questions you may have about whether or when your child should return to school during an illness. And whenever your child has a contagious disease, it's very important to notify the school or child care center so they can inform other parents that their child may have been exposed to a certain illness.