The Butt Stopped Here In County's New School Year

September 04, 1991|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff writer

Like most smokers in Carroll's Board of Education office, Pat Wallman stopped lighting up at her desk more than a year ago.

"I decidedin January of 1990 that I wasn't going to smoke at my desk anymore,"said Wallman, one of the district's executive secretaries. "I knew (a smoking ban) was coming down the pike. I wanted to be prepared."

The ban came down the pike yesterday -- the first day of school -- so Wallman and other smokers were forced to step outside to light up.

"It's limiting how much I smoke," Carl Welsh, a budget officer who has been smoking for 20 years, said of the policy. "I'm not smoking in the men's room or in the office, so it'll cut my smoking by about 50 percent."

Carroll's smoke-free workplace policy -- the firstto be negotiated successfully between a Maryland school board and its workers -- prohibits smoking in the district's 32 schools and administrative offices.

"They're to be congratulated -- both board and employees," said Susan R. Buswell, executive director of the MarylandAssociation of Boards of Education. "The longevity of Carroll workers should grow by leaps and bounds."

Students are banned from smoking in all school districts across the state.

Most school districtshave set up designated smoking areas for staff, a policy Carroll followed until yesterday.

"(The ban) does make a very positive statement to kids," said William H. Hyde, Carroll's assistant superintendent of administration.

"Not only do we teach about health to our students, but we live it."

Concerns about the health hazards of secondhand smoke prompted the Carroll school board and staff to informallyseek a smoking ban in 1990, he said. Because the policy had to be part of the bargaining process, the district was not successful in its quest until this year.

"They did it in the correct way," said Michele Prumo, a Maryland Department of Education specialist in school health services.

"They got all their employees on board. It will be a stronger policy because people will be committed to it."

The state, she said, is not in a position to mandate smoking policies for school staff. Because such a policy deals with teachers and other employees, it must be part of the negotiating process, she said.

"I applaud what Carroll's doing," Prumo said. "It definitely sends a message across the state. Carroll is being a leader in student and employeewellness. They've really taken on a leadership role."

That role, however, didn't come without concerns from some workers.

Harold Fox, chief negotiator for the Carroll County Education Association, which represents about 1,300 teachers, said his members were concerned about the board's "cold-turkey" approach.

"Although the concept of a smoke-free workplace was bought into early on by the vast majority of our membership, the hang-up was with the lack of a phase-in time for smokers," Fox said. "We wanted to give smokers an opportunity to adjust to the change and take advantage of smoke-cessation workshops."

During the bargaining process, however, the board remained committed to implementing the policy this fall, Hyde said. Both union and school officials said smokers constitute a minority among school staffmembers.

The board is offering free smoking-cessation workshops to its employees this fall, said Stephen Guthrie, a personnel specialist. The workshops run for seven weeks and consist of a multicounseling approach to smoking cessation, including supportive therapy and behavior modification.

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