Dewan: When is it OK to be at school with symptoms of illness?
In-person learning continues to be essential for the overall well-being and development of children. Photo courtesy of the Santa Clara County Office of Education.

Each fall and through the winter, our communities begin to see increases in seasonal illnesses and allergies. Schools are continuing to navigate respiratory illnesses among students and staff, such as flu and COVID-19.

In-person learning continues to be essential for the overall well-being and development of children. Children should attend school regularly and can do so even when they may have some symptoms of illness or are not feeling well. It can be helpful for parents to know when a child has symptoms of illness, or develops symptoms while at school, and can still attend school.

To help parents and schools, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) released guidance and resources to clarify which symptoms might require a child to stay home from school. Many factors should be considered, including how to limit the potential spread of harmful diseases to others and how to limit educational, social and other losses that might occur due to unnecessary or excessive absence.

Parents should be aware that under California law, a child may be required to stay home (or go home) from school in specific situations when the apparent illness presents a significant risk to other children or school personnel.

The CDPH guidance provides considerations when a child has symptoms of illness in various settings, including child care, preschool, TK-12 schools and before/after school programs.

Leading California health organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, California, the California Association of Communicable Disease Controllers and the California School Nurses Organization endorse the state guidance.

Generally, a child should stay home (or go home) from child care or school when any new illness or symptom prevents them from participating meaningfully in activities or results in a need for care that is greater than school staff can provide, without compromising  the health and safety of other children.

For most illnesses, including infectious diseases, a doctor’s note is not required for returning to the child care or school setting. In general, a child can return when:

  1. Symptoms are improving and the child is feeling better and can meaningfully participate in routine activities;
  2. Staff can meet the needs of the child without compromising the health and safety of other children and staff; and
  3. Specific symptoms like fever or vomiting have met the return conditions provided in the table on the Symptomatic Student Guidance summary.

CDPH created this two-page summary in a multitude of languages as a guide for families and care providers. The flyer contains suggestions on when a child should stay home and when they can return based on specific symptoms of illness. The flyer is available in Spanish, Arabic, Armenian, Chinese-Simplified, Chinese-Traditonal, Hmong, Khmer, Korean, Punjabi, Russian, Tagalog, Thai and Vietnamese.

With these resources, schools, care providers and parents can support regular and consistent school attendance, while also promoting the health and well-being of students.

San José Spotlight columnist Mary Ann Dewan is the superintendent of schools for Santa Clara County. She has more than 33 years of experience in the field of education. Her columns appear every third Monday of the month.

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