Parent Says Teacher Bullied Daughter with Candle

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By Jeff Chirico

TOWNS COUNTY, Georgia (WGCL) -- The mother of a Towns County High School student thinks a teacher bullied her daughter by repeatedly lighting a scented candle that caused her to have allergic reactions.

"I never thought I'd be bullied by a teacher," said Danielle Nguyen, 16, of Hiawassee.

Nguyen, who suffers from a severe nut allergy, said she had numerous allergic reactions during her Spanish class last semester.

After her first reaction, Nguyen realized it was caused by a burning candle in the classroom. Nguyen said the school nurse warned teacher Lynn Swanson not to light the candle because it sparked reactions in Nguyen.

Nguyen said she continued to have allergic reactions during Spanish class that semester although she didn't know what was causing it since she thought the candle had been removed. According to school records, Nguyen saw the nurse seven times during her Spanish class that semester.

Nguyen's mother, Shannon Baldwin-Nguyen, said Swanson later admitted to lighting the candle all semester but blew it out before Nguyen entered the classroom.

"It clicked. Not only was she burning the candle when she wasn't supposed to be but she was contaminating the classroom. So now it's making sense as to why Danielle has been breaking out and agitated and could not focus on this class," said Baldwin-Nguyen.

Dr. Stanley Fineman, a Marietta allergist and president of the American College of Asthma, Allergies and Immunology said scented candles and air fresheners release chemicals that can cause breathing problems in some patients.

"Teachers really have to be understanding of any child's limitations and potential problems," said Fineman.

Nguyen said she failed her Spanish class because of the repeated reactions and the treatments which caused drowsiness during class.

"I feel that Lynn Swanson knew what she was doing. She knew it caused Danielle to have this reaction but she repeatedly burned the candle, day after day after day and knew it was harming Danielle," said Baldwin-Nguyen.

Baldwin-Nguyen filed a complaint with the state Professional Standards Commission which oversees the licensing of educators. The PSC remanded the complaint to the Towns County Schools superintendent, Melissa Williams.

Williams declined an on-camera interview but in a statement said the district has taken precautions to protect children with allergies, including removing candles from classrooms.

The statement reads:

"Towns County Schools takes the safety of all its students very seriously. We do have students in all of schools with severe food 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."

Williams said she would not comment on whether she will reprimand Swanson because it is a personnel issue.