By Andrew Staub | PA Independent
HARRISBURG – Teenagers looking to woo a homecoming date could soon be without a powerful — and pungent — ally.
State Rep. Marcia Hahn, R-Northampton, wants to introduce legislation banning the use of scented products such as perfume, cologne or body spray in schools having students with fragrance allergies.
The proposal sounds odd, but its inspiration is serious. A student at Freedom High School in Bethlehem this spring had a severe allergic reaction to Axe Body Spray — a staple among high-school-aged boys — and was taken to the hospital. He now takes cyber classes.
Hahn does not think that’s a fair set-up for the student, but even she knows regulating fragrance use among teens eager to drench themselves in Britney Spears’ latest scent is a challenge, even legislative overreach. She thinks her proposal, though, could at least start talk about a tough subject.
“If you have a piece of legislation and it’s not enforceable, it doesn’t really help,” she said. “So I’m hoping that we can come up with a solution that works for everyone.”
Hahn is seeking co-sponsors for the proposal, and a hearing could follow.
For now, Michael LaPorta, principal of Freedom High School, has found himself dealing with an issue unlike any he has encountered during his 27 years in education.
The allergy is relegated to one student and confined to Axe Body Spray — not its body wash, hair gel or other products. Simply walking by a classmate who applied the body spray in the morning can trigger a reaction, LaPorta said.
Still, LaPorta doesn’t think a ban on scented products could be effectively policed, especially in a school with nearly 2,000 students. Gym classes provide plenty of time for students to work up a sweat. Some students shower afterward. Others don’t.
“Kids that don’t take showers don’t want to walk around all day with body odor, so some of them will put cologne on or whatever,” LaPorta said.
Officials asked students to refrain from using the body spray, but the student had another reaction earlier this year when he tried to return.
The student’s mother is asking the school to become “fragrance free.” Hahn’s proposed legislation would make that happen.
If it makes its way into law, the Fragrance Free Schools Act would mandate that districts or joint school boards develop a written policy banning the use of scented products if notified by a student with a related allergy.
The school would have to distribute the policy with the student code of conduct and post notices of the perfume prohibition at all entrances. The notice would not be able to identify the student.
Schools that fail to notify students, faculty or staff about any prohibition on scented products would foot the medical bills should a student have an allergic reaction.
While the American Civil Liberties Union sometimes wades into issues of school dress codes, the state chapter has taken no position on whether students can cloak themselves in cologne in Pennsylvania’s public schools.
While Hahn has only heard about the unintended “Axe effect” from one mother in her district, eight students at a Brooklyn school were sent to the hospital in October after another child sprayed Axe Body Spray in a classroom.
Unilever, which owns the Axe brand, did not offer a response to Hahn’s proposal as of Monday afternoon.
Andrew Staub is a reporter for PA Independent and can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.