The Germaphobe’s Dilemma

September 3rd, 2010 by Andrea Bennett

When should sick kids be kept from school—and how do parents deal with it?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project


A couple of months ago, I put my 14-month-old daughter in part-time daycare. Although I work from home, coordinating my job around her erratic nap schedule, her love of electrical cords, and her increasing desire to ride our long-suffering dog around the house was getting too distracting.

Around noon on her sixth day in daycare, I got a call asking me to pick her up. She’d already picked up a bug. The fever they sent her home with was probably the flu, according to her pediatrician. Then, over the course of the next week, she became the Typhoid Mary of our family, infecting her dad and me, and her grandparents.

I ended up keeping her at home for more than 10 days, after checking the Centers for Disease Control website, which says that young children can be infectious for 10 days after the onset of symptoms. In my estimation, it was the responsible thing to do. On the other hand, I am in a better position than most working moms to stay home with a sick child for nearly two weeks—unlike, for instance, this Chicago-area mom who lost her job when she stayed home with her child who’d picked up pinkeye.

I was surprised to find in a recent Reuters article that a study by the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee found childcare centers are too quick to send toddlers home for mild illnesses, including “pinkeye, ringworm or mild fever.” Now, it’s true that by the time the symptoms are on display, the damage has often already been done, and Dr. Andrew N. Hashikawa of the Medical College of Wisconsin adds that “exclusion is ‘a significant burden for parents,’ who may be forced to take unpaid sick leave or scramble to find an alternative.”

Still, I can see the viewpoint of “Fern,” who commented on the article: “The physician’s concern really should NOT be based on whether sending children home is a ‘significant burden for parents’ but on the child’s personal health and the threat of contagion to others.” “Ece” added: “As far as ‘damage already done,’ if the child continues to be contagious, then they shouldn’t be allowed in the center.”

The debate is making me wonder what I would have done if I hadn’t been in a more convenient position. I’ve taken the advice of pediatrician Dr. Bill Sears to heart, who provides a laundry list of symptoms that should keep your kid home, but also provides some ideas about contingency planning. I’d likely find a sick child center in my area and introduce myself and the baby; BlueSuitMom.com lists a half-dozen resources.

I’m curious to know how other people feel about this issue. Working moms and dads, would you rather your daycare called you at the first sight of a symptom, or temporarily turned a blind eye to avoid burdening you? Would you put your kid back in class just a little earlier than you’d like because you’d be afraid to put your job on the line or do whatever it takes to keep them home until they’re well?