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August 24, 2023

Back-to-School Series: Making the Right Call When Your Child is Sick

Keep Them Home or Send Them to School? ThedaCare Pediatrician Weighs In

As families are preparing for another school year, ThedaCare is helping with a back-to-school series. The series will feature topics that can help students gear up for a healthy and successful year. In this article, Abby Smolcich, M.D., a pediatrician at ThedaCare Physicians-Darboy, discusses the perpetual dilemma of deciding whether to send their child to school or keep them at home when they feel sick.  

“Making this decision requires careful consideration,” said Dr. Smolcich. “Parents should consider the symptoms, the child’s overall well-being, and the potential impact to other students and teachers.”

Common Pediatric Health Conditions

Dr. Smolcich explained the first consideration should be if the illness is known to be contagious. If so, the child should stay at home. If not, your child could potentially go to school. Then there are some conditions in which the source of the symptoms is unknown, so the answer to whether your child should be school-bound is, “It depends.” In those cases, Dr. Smolcich suggested parents seek the advice of a health provider. Here is a guide for some common pediatric health conditions.

Fever: Fever is a common symptom of many illnesses and can indicate an underlying infection. If your child has a temperature of 100.4°F or higher, it is generally recommended to keep them home until they have been fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications. But if your child is otherwise healthy, some physicians say it’s okay to go to school with a fever as high as 100 degrees. 

Cold and Flu: Respiratory illnesses like colds and flu are highly contagious. If your child has a runny nose, persistent cough, sore throat, or body aches, it’s best to keep them home until their symptoms improve.

Stomach Issues: Vomiting and diarrhea can be signs of a stomach virus or food poisoning. Children with these symptoms should stay home until they are symptom-free for at least 24 hours.

Infections: Certain infections, such as strep throat or pink eye (conjunctivitis), require treatment with antibiotics. Pink eye is highly contagious and your child needs to be on antibiotics for 24 hours before heading back to school.

Head Lice. This is anothercontagious condition that needs to be treated immediately, especially if there are live, crawling lice seen on the scalp. Children may return to school after treatment with an over-the-counter or prescription lice-killing product.

Allergies: Sometimes, symptoms of a cough, runny nose or sore throat could be the result of allergies. Knowing your child’s health history will help you better discern the source of these symptoms. If they are allergy-related, it’s okay to send your child to school.

Tummy Aches/Headache: These “aches” are common, but something children can endure while at school, and the condition is not a threat to other students, so it’s fine to send your child to school. Pediatricians say these symptoms are usually the result of anxiety and will subside. They add that if your child is still strugglingonce at school, then parents should consider bringing them home.

Care Options

If you are still questioning which is the right decision – should they stay or should they go? – after your own assessment of symptoms, seeking advice from a health care professional might be the next best step.

Primary Care Physician: Your child’s primary care physician should be your first point of contact for non-emergency situations. They are familiar with your child’s medical history and can provide appropriate guidance and treatment. Make an appointment, if your child’s symptoms persist or worsen after a couple of days of home care. It’s also good to have your child checked out by a doctor if they have a chronic condition, such as asthma or diabetes, and their symptoms are not well-managed.

To find a provider or schedule an appointment, visit Signing up for a MyThedaCare account can help you schedule in-person appointments. ThedaCare can help you find a doctor and learn about services. Call 800.236.2236 for information or non-emergency health advice.

Urgent Care and Walk-In Clinics: Urgent care and walk-in clinics are ideal for minor illnesses or injuries that require prompt attention but are not life-threatening. They offer extended hours and provide medical care without an appointment. Care is available for new and existing patients, as well as children 12 months or older. To help reduce your wait time, visit and select “I’m On My Way.”

Emergency Department: Emergency departments should be reserved for severe or life-threatening conditions, such as difficulty breathing, severe pain, or high fevers accompanied by convulsions. In these situations, call emergency services or take your child to the nearest emergency room immediately.

“By being aware of common pediatric health conditions and the available health care options, parents can make informed decisions that prioritize their child’s health and the well-being of their classmates,” added Dr. Smolcich. “By following these guidelines, you can help create a healthier environment for your child’s education and overall development.”

About ThedaCare

For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including eight hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique, best lives. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts about a patient’s care. ThedaCare is proud to partner with Children’s Wisconsin and Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network to enhance convenient access to the most advanced levels of specialty care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.