Teachers are used to dealing with frequent distractions in their classroom — but when the distractions are potentially life-threatening, as is the case in math teacher Rin Fusselman’s class, a more serious reaction has to be considered.
Whenever Fusselman smells a scent in the room, she requests that the student wearing it go to the bathroom and wash off their hands or, if the scent is on their jacket or in their backpack, leave the belonging by the door.
Rumors have spread that Fusselman searches students’ bags, among other things, because of her severe allergy to scents. Fusselman insists, however, that these allegations are false.
“No, [I’ve never searched a student’s bag],” Fusselman said. “Students’ bags are personal property.”
Instead, students are sent to the office, where their backpacks are searched by staff.
Fusselman says her allergy to fragrances is so severe, it causes the inability to breathe and can be life-threatening.
This type of fragrance allergy is not uncommon; in fact, the number of people affected by scents similar to Fusselman is rising, according to organizations like Web MD. The Invisible Disabilities Association describes the increase in popularity of scent-free zones, such as in hospitals or workplaces. However, as such an environment is not found at Bear Creek, Fusselman must manage her allergy in her own way.
At one point Fusselman sent out a school-wide email to staff members listing certain students she believed to be the source of her frequent reactions — among them was junior Breanda Cervantes.
“Some people do [wear fragrances] but, because I’m aware of her allergies, I don’t wear any,” Cervantes said. “And I still face the consequences… It was at one point in a week where it was constant. She’d ask us to go out of the class and step out to wash. We were just confused, like what do we wash?”
“She doesn’t know which student is wearing [the fragrance] but she will tell an area of the class to get up and go wash it off, which we do,” sophomore Uriel Reyes said.
Cervantes says that the constant interruptions interfere with her learning in the class.
“Last month [we were sent out to wash off] like five times,” Cervantes said. “It affects my learning because she doesn’t really give us a time when to come back so we don’t really know when to come back, and when we do go back into the classroom we miss … some problems that we had questions on.”
Fusselman says that administration is accommodating to her allergy.
“One time while we were taking a test she had to sit outside to correct papers and have someone from the office come in and watch us,” freshman Kaitlyn Phovixay said.
Cervantes’ mother is concerned that students are missing important information.
“She was questioning like, ‘Why is she teaching there if she has those allergies?’” Cervantes said. “She knows that people wear fragrances; they put it on on a daily basis for their personal liking.”
Fusselman does take strong allergy medicine, though that does not completely fix the problem.
“I’m working with my doctor on it,” Fusselman said. “I’m on a super-duty antihistamine decongestant.”
Fusselman alerted students of her allergy at the beginning of the school year and sent home a contract with her syllabus for both students and parents to sign.
“I do remind my students that … [they] have a signed contract with me, and if something of severe nature happens to me, there are some ramifications by law that I can pursue,” Fusselman said.
“One time she started to write this paragraph on the ELMO explaining how she can sue us because we signed a contract at the beginning of the year,” Phovixay said.
“She brought up how her lawyers were already being brought into it and at that point we were like, ‘This is getting ridiculous,’” Cervantes said.
Some students are understanding of Fusselman’s precautions.
“It’s a really serious problem,” Reyes said. “This is someone’s life you’re talking about, she could actually die from this, so it’s very serious matter.”