By MultiCare Health System
When your child wakes up feeling sick, you may be hesitant to have her miss school. But you also don’t want other children getting sick. How do you know when to keep your child home versus sending her out the door?
We talked to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department and Alex Stillman, a school nurse for Tacoma Public Schools, for the answer.
Stillman says vomiting and fever are the obvious symptoms that a child should stay home or be sent home from school, but it’s those “in-between” symptoms that get tricky. What if the student has a headache, stomach ache, cough, congestion or sore throat? At what point should these students stay home?
“My answer to parents and families,” Stillman said, “tends to be, ‘Yes, if the illness or symptoms are preventing the student or their classmates from learning and being successful students.’
“I ask parents, ‘Would you go to work if you had the symptoms your child is experiencing?’ or ‘Would you want a parent to send their child to school and be in your child’s classroom with these symptoms?’
“I find that parents have an easier time determining if their child should go to school or not if they think of school as their child’s ‘job.’ Sometimes taking a day off ‘work’ to rest and get well is better than trying to push through.”
For really tricky cases, parents can always contact their school’s health room for advice.
Is it a cold or the flu?
Here’s a quick symptoms guide to determine whether your child is experiencing the common cold or the flu, courtesy of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department:
• Was the onset of the illness (1) sudden or (2) slow?
• Does your child have a (1) high fever or (2) mild or no fever?
• Is your child’s exhaustion level (1) severe or (2) mild?
• Is your child’s head (1) achy or (2) headache free?
• Is your child’s appetite (1) decreased or (2) normal?
• Are your child’s muscles (1) achy or (2) fine?
• Does your child have (1) chills or (2) no chills?
If most of your answers fall into the first category, your child most likely has the flu. If your answers are mostly in the second category, it’s probably a cold.
Additional guidelines come from the Health Department, which advises keeping children at home if they are experiencing:
• Temperature over 100.4 degrees in addition to behavior change or sore throat, rash, vomiting, diarrhea, earache, irritability
• Vomiting two or more times within a 24-hour period
• Diarrhea three or more times within a 24-hour period
• Open or oozing sore (unless properly covered with bandage that will not leak)
Many other infectious diseases require a child to remain home from school for a period of time — strep throat, pink eye, chickenpox, mumps and whooping cough (pertussis). Check with your child’s school first before sending him or her back to school.
If you or your child need quick care for cold or flu symptoms, MultiCare has many walk-in options throughout the Puget Sound. Visit multicare.org/urgent-care or indigourgentcare.com.

MultiCare Health System is a not-for-profit health care organization with a network of services throughout Pierce County (including clinics in Eatonville, South Hill, Spanaway and Frederickson), south King County, and Thurston and Kitsap counties.