A candy often entrusted to children has become a cause for concern at the Northeastern School District's Shallow Brook Intermediate School.
It's not that Smarties have become dangerous. Teachers handed out the candy to students during recent PSSA testing, said principal Kathleen Walker.
But in the past several weeks a "rash" of students have been grinding the candy into a powder and "sniffing" or "smoking" it, according to an email Walker sent to parents. Some students have also been sniffing crushed Cheerios, according to the letter.
Walker said the email was "courtesy" to let parents know she had talked with all students about the trend in school.
"We just wanted to nip it in the bud before it got out of control," Walker said.
The concern: While there are far worse things to inhale, Walker admits, the similar behaviors of huffing Smartie dust and inhaling drugs or inhalants is the biggest concern.
"I think it does represent a much stronger issue," she said. "If they're thinking that's cool, then what else are they doing?"
The intermediate school has students in grades 4-6. Walker said she is the parent of two boys in that age range, but the idea of inhaling crushed candy was new to her. The email was a way to inform parents and alert them to watch for similar behaviors, she said.
Walker isn't the first administrator to deal with candy-sniffing students. A casual Internet search shows schools in Rhode Island and Georgia sending out similar alerts to parents, and numerous YouTube videos show students, sometimes in class, crushing the candy, arranging it into a line in cocaine-like fashion and snorting it.
Walker said most of the incidents she's spoken with are students cupping the powder in their hands and inhaling it through their mouth. She added most cases were reported from student activity in the cafeteria and the buses.
The risk: Inhaling Smartie powder could be a health concern for some students, just as inhaling too much pollution can be irritating to the nose, throat or lungs, said Dr. Michelle Weiss, a provider at the Family Center for Allergy and Asthma in York Township.
That concern increases for any students with asthma, she said.
"It (sniffing powder) can cause tremendous wheezing, shortness of breath," Weiss said. "Who knows how serious that could be?"
The risk of infection is also a concern, Weiss said. Students might inhale medicine such as nasal sprays, she said, but those are created in sterile laboratories, not in a bus seat with unwashed hands.
Smarties and Cheerios, innocuous in an uncrushed state, should still be discussed with children, Weiss said.
"It sounds like a silly problem," she said. "But kids need to be taught about the dangers of this."
For the school's part, Walker said she's talked with all of the students in reported incidents. With that verbal warning, and a reminder about being role models — Walker said most of the incidents have occurred with sixth-graders — students could receive a detention or other punishment if the behavior continues, Walker said.
— Reach Nikelle Snader at firstname.lastname@example.org.