It does seem strange that a man who spent 17 years smoking three packs of cigarettes a day has taken up the gauntlet to have adult smoking in public schools banned.
But since he quit smoking several years ago, Keith Williams has had a vendetta against the habit, or as I prefer to call it, the addiction.
And I wish him Godspeed. For he is about to run up against one ofthe most rule-conscious bureaucracies in the state: the State Board of Education.
But if Williams and his fellow Harford Board of Education members are successful, they could break new ground for schoolsstatewide.
No public school system in Maryland has yet banned smoking by adults in schools. Students can't smoke, but teachers, janitors, principals and administrators can.
The Harford school board, needled into action by a group of Fallston High school students who complained that adult smoking in their school was a threat to their health and they wanted it stopped. Still, the state board can be stiff. If the rule books say it ain't so, then it ain't. To hell with commonsense.
To wit: In 1988, when the Frederick County Board of Education tried to ban smoking by adults in its public schools, teachers inFrederick complained to the State Board of Education. They argued that the board was barred from such action because it was an issue thatmust be negotiated during work contracts. The state board agreed.
And not only did they agree, but they also ruled the issue of smoking was a "working condition" and therefore must be negotiated.
I have yet to find a corporation in America that decided not to ban smoking in the workplace because they decided it wasa "working condition."
Do you consider breathing noxious fumes atwork a "working condition"?
If there's a condition at work that had ben shown by scientific research could cause you cancer -- namely second-hand smoke -- would you want your bosses to say, "Gee, this isa working condition. We can't remove what may give you cancer until we write it into a labor contract"?
Williams and the rest of the Harford Board of Education hope to convince State Board of Education members that it's time they re-examine their ruling, decide it was a bad call and issue a new ruling stating that Harford and all other local school boards can ban smoking if they so choose to do so.
"If we get affirmative action from the state board, I'd like to see us bansmoking immediately," Williams said.
"To me, smoking is like drugs and alcohol. It has no place in a school. I get very upset when I see people walking down the street, heading home from school, and theyhave cigarettes hanging out of their mouths. They think it's cool and they get that impression from TV and magazines and adults."
But the reality of smoking isn't glamorous, says Williams. And he would know. When he smoked, he would suck into his lungs the chemicals from 60 cigarettes a day.
"For one, it's a very expensive habit. At a $1.50 a pack, it adds
up and you are just throwing that money away.And it's terrible for your health," Williams said.
That's why he went for broke at an executive session of the Board of Education recently and asked fellow board members what they thought of the students' request that the board issue a total ban on smoking in schools.
He felt bad that the kids, mostly juniors and seniors, had done a lotof research on the issue and had obviously put a lot of thought intotheir presentation, and the board reacted with silence.
It wasn'ta time for silence.
And he's right. It's time to raise holy hell and burn down the house. I hope the Board of Education does that whenit makes its case to the state board. Because school is no place forkids to get the idea that, for some reason, adults are allowed to mess with other people's health.