State Won't Let Schools Ban Smoking By Employees

August 25, 1991|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

The state Board of Education has refused to consider allowing the Harford County Board of Education to ban smoking by school employees.

But the seven county school board members say they will keep fighting for smoke-free schools. The board is examining other places to obtain the authority to ban smoking by adults in school buildings -- from the State House to the bargaining table.

The state Board of Education ruled in 1988 that smoking was a work condition, and therefore a contract issue.

"We just want to let the local boards make their own decision about whether smoking by adults should be banned," said Keith A. Williams, the Harford school board member who started the no-smoking campaign after a group of Fallston High School students lobbied the board to ban smoking.

Last week, the Maryland Association of Boards of Education recommended that its membership approve a resolution supporting Harford's effort to bansmoking by school employees and urging the state Board of Education to prohibit smoking in school facilities statewide.

The entire association is expected to vote on the resolution at its annual convention, Sept. 25-27.

"When all the boards of education in an annual meeting make that kind of request, it will certainly draw the attentionof the state board," said Anne Sterling, a member of Harford's school board who helped draft the resolution.

As a last resort, the board may demand that unions accept a smoking ban and tell them the issue is non-negotiable, Williams said. Talks begin this fall and the newcontract would take effect in September 1992.

The board requesteda hearing before the state Board of Education on the smoking issue, but it was denied "because there is no live case or controversy," wrote Valerie Cloutier, principal counsel for the state Board of Education, in an Aug. 5 letter to George Lisby, president of the Harford County Board of Education.

Cloutier said a state school board ruling in a 1988 case is considered precedent. To reconsider precedents, thestate Board of Education needs a legal challenge, she explained.

The 1988 case -- an appeal by teachers of the Frederick County Board of Education's smoking ban -- ruled smoking was a working condition that must be negotiated, Cloutier said in an interview with The Harford County Sun last month.

Williams said he doesn't believe the issue should be negotiable but said school Superintendent Ray R. Keech istalking with union representatives because "we don't want them to feel we're shoving it down their throats."

The idea of banning smoking by adults originated with 16 Fallston High School students, who attended the Harford Board of Education's June 10 meeting to lobby for a total ban on smoking in schools.

The students argued that smoking by adults should be banned as a health measure.

Students cannot smoke on school property under state Board of Education policy. Teachers and other employees can smoke in designated areas of school and administration buildings.

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