Dear Parents: Keep Sick Kids Home From School, Even When They Aren't 'That' Bad

ParentingPublished Dec 29, 2023
By Kaitlin Stanford
Sick childselimaksan/iStock

It's that time of year when the post-holiday glow turns into the sound of sniffles and coughs. Hearing that a nasty cold — or even worse, a case of the flu — is making the rounds at work, church, or school is enough to elicit a groan from any parent. In part, because we know what it inevitably means: Our kid is probably next. But for parents such as Mia Carella, whose daughter is immunocompromised, news of an illness sweeping through school sends a different kind of panic racing through her.

That's because her daughter Evalyn was born with serious congenital heart defects that have led to a variety of other medical conditions, and a "simple" cold is never just that. It's also why Carella, a writer and stay-at-home mom of two, took to Facebook, in a post that generated a lot of conversation, to voice something that's been on her heart for a while.

More from CafeMom: My Wife Dumped 2 Toddlers on Me When I Had the Flu & Then Got Mad When I Decided To Leave

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'This is your friendly reminder to please keep your sick kids home from school,' her plea begins. 'I’m begging you.'

It's accompanied by a photo of Evalyn holding one of her favorite dolls while breathing through a nebulizer.

"If you are offended by this, I’m sorry," Carella continued. "I know I don’t know your situation. I know it’s not easy to take off from work or arrange childcare to keep a child home. But I also know that you don’t know MY situation. If you did, you would understand."

The "situation" Carella speaks of certainly isn't easy. Evalyn is one of the 3 million children living in the US who are categorized as medically complex — meaning she requires extensive treatment from specialists.

"She was hospitalized for over nine weeks after she was born," Carella tells CafeMom. "To date she has had two open heart surgeries, three cardiac catheterizations, a cardiac stent placement, and countless other medical tests and procedures."

These medical issues have left Evalyn more susceptible to illness than other kids her age, with even minor sicknesses hitting her hard.

"When she was 18 months old, what started out as a cold turned into pneumonia, and she had to be transported by helicopter to a children’s hospital," Carella recalls. "She has been through so much. Every illness in our home comes with so much anxiety because of what we have been through."

In her now viral post, she begged other parents to think of families like hers when weighing the pros and cons of sending their child to school — even if their illness seems minor.

"You don’t know that when you are the parent of a medically complex child, a 'simple' cold or virus is actually very complicated. You don’t know that a common cold can turn into a life threatening issue for our child in the blink of an eye," she wrote. "You don’t know that we may have serious medical procedures scheduled and that it is imperative for our child to stay healthy so that these appointments can happen," she shared.

"So, please, don’t be offended," Carella concluded. "Instead try to put yourself in my shoes. And, before you send your sick child to school, please think of my child."

Carella said she wrote the post in hopes of opening the hearts and minds of parents who may not have ever considered things from her point of view.

In their defense, they may not have known to do that, but for families like Carella's, the reality they face is far too serious to stay silent on the matter.

"I want other parents to put themselves in my shoes for a moment when making the decision of whether or not to send their sick child to school," says Carella, who also has a 4-year-old son named Weston.

Since sharing her thoughts, the post has elicited more than 1,000 comments — from those who wholeheartedly agree with Carella and those who don't.

"I have a special needs son who is medically fragile when it comes to viruses, etc.," shared one mom. "He gets sick easier than most and a normal cold could possibly kill him or compromise his shunt … As parents we are caught between a rock and a hard place."

"To be honest, I don’t care about the situation. Don’t send sick kids to school! Or clubs, or lessons, or practice, or anything else you think has any importance," another mom added. "I’m fortunate my child is not medically fragile, but I don’t want her sick. I’m a teacher, and once the first one comes to school with that crap, the whole room is going down. It’s a viscous cycle that could so easily be avoided if we’d just stay home!"

Many others argued it isn't so easy as that.

"As a single mother, I totally wish that I could always keep my child home when she starts to get sick... I really do," one mom said. "However, please try to understand the decisions some of us single mother's face when we send them to school."

"I am with the other parents who can’t keep their kid home for every 'simple cold' for all the reasons already specified," another person wrote. "My thoughts may seem harsh, and I don’t mean it too, however... If your child is immune compromised, then why don’t you be the one to home school your child? Wouldn’t that be the safer option?"

Others pointed out another underlying issue at play: school attendance policies, which penalize students for being absent too much.

"Unfortunately I can't keep my child home for every cold or sniffle they may get," one mom shared. "If I did that then I would be in trouble for my kids being absent too much. I always keep them home if they have a fever of 100.2 or higher. Or if they are coughing uncontrollably. But, your request for even a cold is just not possible."

"I get it and I agree," another person wrote. "But, the school system needs to be more lenient with absence. My kid had Strep 11 times in four months last year. Mandatory two days out of school. I was told BY THE SCHOOL she couldn't go (obviously), but then was taken to court BY THE SCHOOL for [excessive] absences."

At least one mom took a moment to talk about the importance of vaccination — which also helps protect the immunocompromised.

"Vaccinate your kids too while you're at it," she wrote. "Kids should not be dealing with diseases this day and age that were eradicated decades ago. If you listen to celebrities like Jenny McCarthy over public health scientists, then you need to not be a parent."

There was also a chorus of moms who jumped in to make an argument for homeschooling.

"If your child's immune system is so weak why would you not choose to homeschool her?" one mom asked. "It's safer and more guaranteed to think of and protect your own child then to depend on others to protect her."

"I'm sorry but if my child could possibly die from catching a cold I would homeschool," another person agreed. "It's that simple."

Speaking with CafeMom, Carella says she's well aware that not every parent can keep their kid home from school for every single cold symptom.

She also understands that parents weigh a variety of pros and cons when they make their decision.

"I get it!" she insists. "I just wanted to put into perspective that a 'simple cold' alone is enough to send fear into the heart of a parent of a medically complex child — let alone the flu, fevers, strep throat, or other illnesses."

Carella, who frequently writes about parenting issues for various news outlets, including her own her blog, This Mom with a Blog, tells us she knew the topic could be considered “controversial” but was still surprised by just how much people had to say on both sides of the issue. Although she appreciates the supportive and hopeful messages that some people left, the negative ones have certainly stung.

"The most hurtful accuse me of being selfish and say that I am raising my children to be self-centered," Carella shares. "I also saw some comments accusing me of exaggerating [my daughter's] medical issues to make my post go viral, which of course is completely untrue. I wish commenters in general would remember that there is a real person with real feelings on the other side of a post."

Despite the negativity her post has received, Carella says she's choosing to focus on the positive.

"I am receiving so much support from parents who really get it, as well as people thanking me for voicing my opinion on this sensitive subject," she shares. "This means so much to me, and the kind words have not gone unnoticed. I am so appreciative of the people who took the time to send their support."

Ultimately, that's all she was really seeking when she wrote her post in the first place: a moment to share her perspective and an audience that would (hopefully) hear where she was coming from.

In the end, her supporters were quick to notice that – and weren't afraid to cut through the criticism and point out that what this mom deserves most is empathy.

"Compassion," wrote one Facebook commenter. "Some of y'all are in desperate need of it."

cold and flucold and flu seasonmotherhoodparentingparenthoodMia Carellaimmunocompromisedvirusvirusesillnesshealth
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