Of the 10 people who testified before the County Council Monday about a school anti-smoking resolution, only one -- non-smoker James Swab-- thought it was a bad idea.
Swab, president of the Howard County Education Association, said the resolution urging the state and local boards of education to ban smoking in public schools infringes on teachers' collective bargaining rights.
"The issue is not about smoking," Swab said after four students and three other people had said that it was. "The issue is about (Councilman) Darrel Drown's attempt to interfere in the negotiation process."
The State Board of Education ruled that teachers' smoking lounges are a negotiable issue.
"This is a mandatory subject of employee negotiation," Swab said. "Smoking is not done in public, but is done away from students and (non-smoking) teachers.
"Darrel Drown iswrong in his attempt to limit what is negotiated. He is out of order. If Darrel wants to have an impact, he should run for the Board of Education."
Drown (R-2nd) could better serve students, Swab said, by working "constructively to raise revenues" and by working with the county's General Assembly delegation to save the county from further cuts in state aid.
Drown said later that "I want to assure teachers that this resolution is not anti-teacher. It is not anti-education.It is pro-health. I like teachers and I think many of them support this resolution."
Council member C. Vernon Gray, author of the county's tough anti-smoking statute, joined Swab Monday in questioning the wisdom of Drown's resolution.
"No one is more committed than I to eliminating second-hand smoke," Gray said. "I see us going down a slippery slope here."
The question, Gray said, is whether the council was devising "a back-door way to begin undoing a lot of things negotiated in teachers' contracts."
Those speaking in favor of the resolution seemed unimpressed with any nuances related to collective bargaining. Teachers who smoke not only set a poor example, they smell bad, students told the council.
Cancer victim Peg Browning, speaking in a raspy voice while taking deep breaths from a portable oxygen container, told the council about her visits to schools to speak on the evils of smoking. Students always ask her why teachers smoke and why students smell tobacco on them, she said.
Her biggest regret, Browning said, is that she smoked in front of her own children.
Drown's resolution has no force of law. It urges but does not compel a school smoking ban. The council will vote on the resolution Jan. 6.