When the two mix, parents must decide whether their children are too sick to return to school, a decision that isn't always easy.
Parents should know when an illness calls for a doctor and when it doesn't. The most common school sicknesses are respiratory infections, including colds.
"With a cold in a young child, particularly a child who is in the early elementary school grades, it's not unusual to have a fever for a day or two, and a fever is not physically harmful for the child," said Dr. Christopher B. White, a Medical College of Georgia professor of pediatrics who specializes in infectious diseases. "It doesn't mean just because they have a fever and cold symptoms that they need to go see the doctor."
The dreaded pinkeye doesn't automatically give a pupil a pass to stay home, Dr. White said.
"Schools tend to get real nervous about pinkeye, and I don't know why, because it's really not a serious problem," he said. "Basically, just think of it as a cold in the eye in most cases."
It's "somewhat" contagious, but no more so than the common cold, Dr. White said.
"Once school starts and you get kids together in a closer environment, that's when we start to see more acute illnesses, and we tend to see illnesses that tend to be spread by close contact," he said.
"They're going to get sick. We live in a world of germs," Dr. White said.
A great way of reducing the chances of children getting sick is by having them wash their hands, particularly after they sneeze, Dr. White said. It's also a good idea for a teacher to keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in the classroom.
Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.