County Board of Education member Keith A. Williams says he hasn't been an anti-smoking vigilante since he gave up his own three-pack-a-day habit a few years ago.
But Monday, Williams took up a new crusade: banning smoking by teachers and other adults in county public schools.
At his suggestion, the seven-member county Board of Education voted unanimously to ask the state school board to consider making smoking a non-negotiable work contract issue. If the state board agrees, Harford and other local school boards could consider banning smoking by teachers and employees at school.
That suggestion was first proposed by 16 Fallston High School students last month. At a county Board of Education meeting June 10 the students argued that adult smokingshould be banned as a health measure.
Students have long been prohibited from smoking on school property under state Board of Education policy. Teachers and other employees are permitted to smoke in designated areas of school and administration buildings.
Valerie Cloutier, principal counsel for the state Board of Education, said Friday it was unlikely the Harford school board's letter would be received by the deadline to make the state board's agenda for its next monthly meetings, July 30 and 31.
Cloutier said the state Board of Education ruled in a 1988 case that the Frederick County Board of Education could not ban smoking unless they negotiated the issue with the Frederick County Teachers Association. Teachers had appealed the local school board's decision establishing a smoking ban, Cloutier said. The state board ruled the issue of smoking was a working condition, and therefore must be negotiated, she said.
Although the ruling concerned Frederick County, the precedent applies to other counties as well, Cloutier said. The decision establishing smoking as a working condition could be changed if the General Assembly passed a law, or the state board reverses itself with a decision in another case or issues a new regulation, she said.
Williams said he urged the Harford Board of Education to send the letter because he was impressed by the students' presentation about the issue.
"Unfortunately, we can't do anything because of the state Board of Education policy," said Williams."The three girls who made the presentation weren't happy, and I wasn't happy either.
"But based on what's been happening in the last two years with government and private businesses banning smoking -- I don't think it was negotiated with the unions -- I thought the state (board) should look into it."