Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Schools tackle a smell of a problem

Brandon division drawing up rules to limit use of scented products

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'Some students have to be taken aside by counsellors' to be spoken to about scented products says Brandon school board chair Mark Sefton.

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'Some students have to be taken aside by counsellors' to be spoken to about scented products says Brandon school board chair Mark Sefton. Photo Store

Kids, you reek.

Like, totally literally, dudes and dudettes. You're applying way too much scented product.

Brandon School Division is poised to introduce what is believed to be Manitoba's first division-wide policy to regulate the use of scents in schools.

"At first, we referred to it as the Axe policy," Brandon school board chairman Mark Sefton said with a laugh Thursday.

"We have boys who see the commercials on TV and think if they use two-thirds of a can, girls will follow them to their locker. You walk through a cloud of that stuff and you can hardly breathe," Sefton said.

Brandon will introduce the policy when classes return in September, but there will be a learning period before full implementation and enforcement, likely by January of 2014.

Already, he said, "Some students have been taken aside by counsellors" and told to dial it back -- dial it way, way back.

'It's fairly new. We're breaking new ground here'

-- Brandon school board chairman Mark Sefton

"It came up in our workplace health and safety committee. We have some frontline people who have pretty powerful allergies to scented products," he said.

More alarming, said Sefton, was the BSD education committee's warning allergic students are having trouble learning when scents are wafting around their classrooms. "It's ultimately more important that we break down barriers for kids," he said.

Allergies are the priority, said Sefton, but trustees are aware some students and staff use so much personal product, it can overwhelm even people who aren't allergic.

"It's not just allergies -- that's the biggest concern, because it can affect student learning," Sefton said.

"It's fairly new. We're breaking new ground here," said Sefton, who said Brandon has been using a Los Angeles school's policy as a model.

Brandon is not looking at a total ban or demanding people use absolutely nothing but unscented products, he said.

"It's when people walk around with a cloud. It's going to be a reasonable personal space," he said.

"We always know there's going to be a certain background level we can tolerate -- you don't want to be over the top," Sefton said.

Sefton said BSD does not expect a significant backlash from students, staff, or parents, or even from retailers whose sales may decline if kids aren't coming back so frequently to reload with another truckload of scented products.

"You shouldn't be gassing people around you," said Manitoba Teachers' Society president Paul Olson, who added there's increasingly more chemical-sensitivity among teachers.

"The only concern I have is enforceability. I hope they can find a balanced and reasonable implementation," said Olson.

Olson said when scents have come up as an issue in staff rooms, people "who are not otherwise inconsiderate" will declare they have the right to use anything they want, in the amount they want, and tell others: "I'll darn well do what I want to."

Education Minister Nancy Allan said she knows teachers with severe health problems because of chemical sensitivities.

"I want to congratulate them" for BSD's awareness, Allan said. "I think we'll see more and more of this."

Some Manitoba school divisions have informal policies that leave decisions up to principals.

"Some schools are scent-free (as much as is possible) in response to allergies and sensitivities," said Seven Oaks School Division superintendent Brian O'Leary. "You have to treat it much like peanut-free zones with signage and education, but with the range of sensitivities and the prevalence of perfumes in soaps and shampoos and hand creams, etc., the effect of the policy is to reduce scents rather than eliminate them completely."

Winnipeg School Division communications officer Dale Burgos said the division administration building is scent-free.

The superintendent sent out a memo several years ago advising WSD principals it was up to them to enforce scent-free areas if it was a problem in their schools, Burgos said. WSD uses scent-free foam soaps in all its buildings.

Pembina Trails S.D. leaves it up to principals to deal with serious problems.

"It's certainly understandable -- it may be the start of a trend," Manitoba School Boards Association executive director Carolyn Duhamel said. "I've not heard of it before" in public school divisions, she said. "It's certainly common in workplaces."

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Cracking down on scents in school? Does it make sense? Should this be a teachable moment, not a time for discipline? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 21, 2013 A4

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Updated on Friday, June 21, 2013 at 6:22 AM CDT: replaces photos, adds question for discussion

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