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School gum policy gives students something to chew on

By JASON SCHREIBER
Union Leader Correspondent

August 31. 2015 9:09PM
The traditional prohibition on chewing gum is going by the wayside this year at Epping Middle School. (JASON SCHREIBER)

EPPING — Chew on this.

The principal of Epping Middle School is changing the school’s policy this year to allow students to chew gum as long as they toss it when they’re done and they’re not chewing loud enough to annoy others.

Gum-chewing in school has long been considered a big no-no, but studies in recent years have shown that it can help improve academic performance on tests and overall cognitive functioning.

That was one of the points Principal Brian Ernest made when he raised the sticky issue at a recent Epping School Board meeting.

Ernest pointed to research that shows chewing gum “promotes learning” and said he decided to make the change this year after speaking with students last year.

“It’s something that I really don’t see as an issue. In my former district I spent five years there and we didn’t have a single problem with gum,” he said.

Ernest, who is in his second year as Epping Middle School principal, said students who abuse the privilege to chew gum by sticking it under tables and failing to throw it away will lose the privilege.

“I want to focus on teaching and learning and I think we’ll focus on good stewardship and if they chew gum, they take care of it. They put it in the trash can. They’re respectful and they’re responsible,” he said.

Epping School Board Chairman Dave Mylott said he wasn’t opposed to the change, but expressed some concern about what would happen if a student is annoying while chewing.

“That could be incredibly distracting,” he said.

Ernest insisted that gum-chewing students who are distracting will be dealt with accordingly.

“I think middle school students are responsible enough to take care of their gum...,” he said.

School board member Brian Reed didn’t attend the board meeting, but said Monday that he feels gum-chewing is something that should be left to the principal’s discretion.

“He’s a seasoned principal. If he feels it’s adequate, then I wouldn’t have an issue with it. If parents have a concern with gum I feel like Brian is very reasonable and would work with them,” he said.

Other school districts

Epping isn’t the only district that’s wrestled with gum over the years.

Some schools haven’t budged on their no-gum policies while others have changed their thinking and are now allowing it.

In some cases, schools have left it up to teachers to decide how to handle it in their own classrooms.

The Cooperative Middle School in Stratham has allowed students to chew gum for years. Principal Bill Furbush said they’ve learned how to handle it respectfully.

Gum is usually banned in schools from a fear that it will end up on the bottom of a desk or on the floor. When you allow students to chew gum they have no need to hide it and are taught how to be socially responsible with their gum-chewing habits,” he said.

Furbush said he’s never stepped on a piece of gum in his five years as principal

He also pointed to the benefits.

“Chewing gum is a strategy to allow students to use excess energy in a socially acceptable way. Occupational therapists have often recommended gum-chewing for students with fidgeting and focus issues. The sensory input in the jaw and muscles can calm students and many do report they can concentrate better when allowed to chew gum. This strategy can benefit all students and should not be limited to just a few,” he said.

jschreiber@newstote.com


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