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Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 09/ 1/2009

Stop Sending Sick Kids to School

By Valerie Strauss

Let’s have a show of hands: How many of you have sent a child to school when you have suspected (I’m being polite here) that he/she was not well and might be contagious?

Maybe it will help if I tell you that my hand is up.

I know that you had your excuses: Your son didn’t have fever when you dropped him off at school at 8 a.m.--even if the nurse says he has 102 degrees Fahrenheit an hour later... You thought your daughter was sneezing and coughing because of her allergies... It is sometimes hard to tell when your kid’s physical complaint is an excuse to get out of a test.

I believe all of that. And I also believe that some people will keep sending their kids to school sick even if the secretary of Health and Human Services personally comes to their door and begs them not to.

But for those of us who are capable of changing our behavior, this is the time. Here’s why:

--The government predicts that perhaps as much as half of the U.S. population could come down with the H1N1 virus strain, better known as the swine flu. That’s roughly twice as many people who usually get the flu during a regular season.

--The population most expected to be affected is between the ages of 5 and 24. That means, quite possibly, your kids.

--There is not yet a vaccine to combat this flu.

It is time—now—to plan for a situation in which your child stays home—either because of sickness or because his/her school has closed:

*If you work outside the home, find out what accommodations your employer is making; the government has asked businesses to be flexible.

*Figure out who can stay with your child if you can’t. Figure out who can take care of your kids if you get very sick.

*Ask your child’s teachers what plans are being made to allow students who are at home but not sick to do work.

*Ask teachers how they will accommodate kids who are sick and not well enough to do work.

I have never understood why some teachers require kids who are actually sick to return to school with all of their work completed. Will sick children be expected to make up every single bit of work they missed? If so, why? Teachers should be able to devise a way for kids to catch up on important material in an expedited way.

*Find out what school administrators are planning to do if parents do send their kids to school sick.

*Follow government health guidelines.

For example, even though your kids will tell you to stop treating them like babies, teach them to wash their hands for 20 seconds with soapy water a number of times a day. Keep your kid home for at least 24 hours after they are free of fever. When there is a vaccine available--probably in October--get it.

Parents: E-mail The Sheet about any aspect of your planning that would be worth sharing with others.

How are schools and employers addressing the issue?

And teachers: Tell us how you are planning to stay on track with the possibility of more health disruptions than you are accustomed to handling.

By Valerie Strauss  | September 1, 2009; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Parents, Teachers  | Tags:  school work, sick kids, swine flu, teachers  
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How do I know the vaccine is safe? It's easy to say "get it" when it's not going in the arm of a two year old.

Posted by: supersonic2 | September 1, 2009 12:41 PM | Report abuse

And now, a second of showing of hands for the so-called adults in this country:

1. How many of you have gone to work when you knew you were sick? 2. How many of you in so doing have given whatever you have to some one else?
3. How many of you have gone into work, despite KNOWING you were sick and infectious because you had a reasonable idea that failure to appear would be grounds for being fired?

I'd be willing to grant small dispensation to this group.

And now for a THIRD showing of hands, the equal opportunity idiots, the employers, who seem to know the COST of everything and the value of absolutely NOTHING:

1. How many of you have suffered/permitted your obviously sick employees to have contact with your customers?
2. How many of you have made it clear that any employee who fails to come to work, even if sick, will be fired?
3. How many of you provide even UNPAID days off?

And finally, for the fourth group, all other service providers, including churches, movies, any kind of service providers:

How many of you IDIOTS continue to supply only cold water and those fake hand driers, claiming to be "green," and which you already know discourage proper hand washing because they don't work (which really saves on soap and water as well)?

People want, I think, to do the right thing here, but our employers and those who generally provide services are making it almost impossible.

Posted by: Va_Lady2008 | September 1, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

I've heard from a friend that her nephew's school in Brazil had Purel-application breaks every 30 minutes throughout the school day, removed all door knobs (so that not every hand touched them) and got rid of water fountains during their H1N1 outbreak. She said the number of sick kids was much smaller than in other Southern hemisphere countries.She said she thought Brazil handled the flu well because people there have experience with things going wrong, and that Americans, she thought, aren't prepared because, by and large, they still assume the government will make everything all right. I found this fascinating, and it made me think about the value not of panicking, but of refusing to wander around in a cloud of smug assumption that These Things don't happen to Us. Plus, I bought lots of Purel.

Posted by: exkidspost | September 1, 2009 3:26 PM | Report abuse


If my memory serves me correct, not long ago a student was glorified in the Washington Post because they never missed a day of school from kindergarten through high school and received accolades from the school and your newspaper. Shortly before that time, The New York Times Ethicist Columnist, Randy Cohen broached the subject whether or not to "recognize" these students.

I mentioned that I thought it was ridiculous to recognize students who never miss class. One year, my oldest son received a certificate for the "accomplishment" of not missing a day of class during the school year. We looked at each other and laughed. It never occurred to either of us that he hadn't missed a day, considering he was my sickest child.

A neighbor's son "accomplished" the same distinction of never missing a school day before college. When I asked his mother how it was possible, she replied, "He always got sick on the weekends." How ludicrous!

Considering that my oldest son frequently missed school because he had allergies and had a borderline immune system, I used to cringe at the number of sick children who were sent to school because their working parents didn't have alternative care for their children.

Until schools step up to the plate and remove sick children from the classroom and admonish parents for sending their sick children to school, the rest of the public's health will continue to be jeopardized.

And please let your editors know that perfect attendance should NOT be glorified.

Posted by: 1voraciousreader | September 1, 2009 6:49 PM | Report abuse

While I agree, a lot of schools have strict attendance policies. My local schools require a doctor's note to call out sick. There are many illnesses I don't feel a person needs to go to a doctor for.

Posted by: FionnaB | September 2, 2009 7:11 AM | Report abuse

The first thing to fix is schools that have ridiculous attendance policies and no concept of learning that can be done at home. if the student can pass your test at the end of the grading period, she shouldn't be held back for illness.

Posted by: staticvars | September 2, 2009 3:02 PM | Report abuse

staticvars, I totally agree!

Posted by: FionnaB | September 2, 2009 7:22 PM | Report abuse

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