To send your snot-nosed, hacking child to school or not: That is the question. Whether 'tis nobler to miss yet another round of critical meetings, deadlines or social obligations to nurse him at home or suffer the slings and arrows of angry fellow parents . . . . Well, you get the picture.
The choice may seem obvious - it's certainly more ethical to keep the kid home for the full length of an illness - but it's not always respected, judging by the plethora of sniffling, sneezing, crusty-looking kids in my sons' classrooms. We've all been guilty now and then, though some friends with high schoolers shift blame to their ailing offspring, who fear missing a day of classes lest they fall behind on their work.
"It can be hard to know what to do," sympathizes Linda Davis-Alldritt, president of the National Association of School Nurses. She acknowledges that factors such as whether parents have sick leave or emergency child-care options often play a huge role. For one thing, the average kid falls ill a lot - with an estimated two to six bouts of the common cold alone every year - but is often well enough to head off on the bus anyway. "If you tried to keep every kid home till they're not coughing anymore, there'd be so much missed school they wouldn't get much of an education; the same with runny noses," says Ivor Horn, a mother of two who works as a pediatrician at Children's National Medical Center.
Still, it's important to try to balance school attendance with making sure that an ill child gets the care, rest and attention he needs to recuperate. And then there's the broader obligation to prevent the spread of communicable illnesses.
"Kids are going to get colds and viruses and we can't panic, but you can try to do the right thing for your child, and for the larger community," says Horn. Many schools have policies that lay out when you should, or shouldn't, send your kid to class.
Here are some other pointers: