EDUCATION
10/18/2012 08:41 am ET Updated Oct 18, 2012

Danielle Nguyen, Georgia Teen, Says She Failed Spanish Class Because Teacher Burned Candle Ignoring Life-Threatening Nut Allergy

Georgia teenager Danielle Nguyen suffers from a severe nut allergy, and mother Shannon Baldwin-Nguyen says her daughter was endangered by a Spanish teacher who repeatedly lit a scented candle that triggered allergic reactions.

Danielle, a 16-year-old student at Towns County High School, tells WGCL-TV that she experienced a number of allergic reactions during Spanish class last year. Multiple trips to the school nurse led to warnings to teacher Lynn Swanson to stop using the candle -- advice Swanson chose to ignore.

Now, Danielle says she failed her Spanish class because the regular reactions led to breakouts and agitation, and the treatments caused drowsiness and contributed to her inability to focus in class.

Towns County Schools Superintendent Melissa Williams declined to comment to WGCL-TV on whether or how Swanson could be punished, but issued a public statement asserting the district's commitment to student safety and measures that protect those with allergies:

We have taken steps to lessen their exposure to situations that might put them in danger by: having our school nurse meet with each school faculty before school began to educate our staff about the allergies and how to handle allergic reactions; noted outside each classroom where appropriate that students with food allergies are inside as a reminder for all students to consider their behavior; removed all products in school vending machines that might create a problem; put information for all parents on our website and removed all candles from classrooms.

Peanut allergies are on the rise, and the nuts are the most common food trigger for life-threatening anaphylactic shock. A U.K. study last year found that adolescents who have a nut allergy tend to feel isolated, stigmatized or left out of activities.

Those findings are anecdotally supported by stories like one out of Edgewater, Fla., where parents in the Volusia County School District rallied behind a movement to remove a 6-year-old girl from the classroom last year. Homeschooling the child, they said, would reduce frustrations other families experience for having to comply with special rules to ensure the girl's wellbeing.

The policies that have parents jumping through hoops include bans of nut butters and other nut products. Some schools, like the Will County School District in Illinois, have opted to ban outside food altogether from classroom holiday parties and birthday celebrations, when treats are often shared.

In a tragic incident resulting from an allergic reaction at school in January, 7-year-old Ammaria Johnson died at Virginia's Hopkins Elementary School after a reaction to peanuts that had her breaking out in hives and experiencing shortness of breath. While school officials said Ammaria died of a "pre-existing medical condition," mother Laura Pendleton said the school failed to follow the girl's allergy action plan.

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