How sick is too sick to go to school? It’s a question every parent with school-aged children has been faced with. However, no one seems to have worked out the magic formula.

There’s so much to consider when trying to decide if your child is too sick to go to school or whether you should send them to class as normal.

If you’re struggling to work out where to draw the line, you might be comforted by a new poll from the University of Michigan C.S.  Mott Children’s Hospital which shows that while the vast majority of parents (75 per cent) reported at least one sick day for their child over the past year, there was no real consensus about what actually warrants a sick day.


What is classified as too sick to go to school?

According to Science Daily, the poll showed that opinions varied among parents on how sick was too sick to go to school. It found parents have to weigh up many, if not all of the following factors:

  •  Will sending the child to school spread illness among other students?
  •  Will the child miss an important lesson and find it difficult to catch-up?
  •  What will the consequences be for a parent who has to take time off work?
  •  Are there any critical tests or assignments due that day?

When making a decision on whether to keep a child at home, the factor that influenced most parents was whether the illness would get worse or spread to other classmates. However, the influencing factors changed depending on age.

For younger children in early primary school, the most important factor for parents was health-related concerns.

Parents grow more concerned about their child missing school during more senior grades.

The poll found two in every five parents with children at high school said missing a test or falling behind in class were very important considerations when deciding whether to allow a sick day. Results also determined that many parents set a fairly high benchmark for a sick day.

While four in five parents agreed they were unlikely to send a child to school if they had diarrhea, fewer than three in five said they were unlikely to send a child to school if they had been vomiting.

This dropped again to just under half of parents who said they were unlikely to send their child to school if they had a slight fever but were acting normally.

Only 16 per cent of parents would keep their children home from school if they had red watery eyes without fever, whilst 12 per cent would keep children home for a runny nose and dry cough and no fever.

Logistics also played a part in the decision making.

Eleven per cent of parents say missing a day of work or hiring a babysitter, would influence their decision to keep a sick child home.

Parents are more likely to let older children stay home alone when they have a sick day.

Additional resources for busy mums and dads:

If you’re still having trouble making the call, Queensland Health has produced this helpful poster. It clearly identifies a number of illnesses that require a child to stay home from school.

Queensland Health also advises that “all children need extra care and attention when they are sick”. They also encourage parents to keep children “at rest and at home” to help them recover. This will minimise the risk of transferring an infection to other children.

However, try not to spend too long searching for advice online. Remember that poll we mentioned earlier? In the end parents are simply forced to make a judgement call.

Just make sure you don’t fall for the thermometer on the light bulb trick!