Schools' Smoking Ban Is A Victory In A Very Good Cause

THE OBSERVER

February 02, 1992|By Mark Guidera

Within the next week or so, the Boare of Education will announce details of its contract negotiations with school employee unions and there will be at least one element worth really cheering about.

Come the 1993 school year, smoking by all Harford school employees inside school owned buildings effectively will be banned.

If the significance of that is lost on you, then consider this: Harford joins just one other public school district in the state to negotiate a smoking ban among public school employees.

The school board's efforts on this issue are laudable, particularly in light of the fact that some critics had said such a ban would lead to a battle royal, starting with a grievance filed with the State Board of Education.

But apparently the union negotiators saw the wisdom in the banand offered no serious resistance. The movement was lent significantcredibility because it was initiated by students -- who were affected by the in-school smoking policy -- not politicians.

Since the contracts with three unions which represent school employees haven't been officdialy ratified, school board members can't talk specifics.

But Keith Williams, one of the county school board members who took up the gauntlet on this issue, says one of the contracts agrees in writing to the ban, while the other two unions have agreed by word of honor to abide.

"I can't talk about the specifics of the contracts,but I can say there won't be any smoking in our schools come 1993," said Williams.

School administrators will have to designate areas outside schools where employees who do smoke can go for a drag.

"These areas cannot be inside the buildings," said Williams.

County public schools now restrict smoking to teacher lounges or restrooms.

The students who proposed the ban argued that wasn't good enough because research showed that particulates from the secondary smoke that burns off the burning end of a butt are circulated widely by ventilation systems.

Harford joins Prince George's County as the two public school districts in the state to have successfully negotiated with school employees a ban on smoking in school buildings.

The Prince George's County school baord was the first in Maryland to break thebarrier. The smoking ban there takes effect Sept. 1.

Still, it's clear there is more work to be done.

The medical and scientific evidence that secondary smoke can have an adverse effect on children ispretty solid; the American Academy of Pediaatrics has said in a report on involuntary smoking that the adverse effects on children are sosignificant that any facility caring for children on a daily basis should ban smoking.

Unfortunately few school boards in the state, not to mention the state school board itself, have aggressively addressed the issue.

Kellie Knight, a junior at Fallston High, is understandably elated at the local school board's success on the issue, butshe too sees the need for continued action.

Kellie was one of about 15 Fallston High students who championed the effort to convince the board and the public that smoking by school employees in schools adversley affected the health of students and other employees.

That,they argued, was reason enough to ban the practice and they had plenty of medical research to back them up.

And it looks as if Kellie,17, and some of the other students don't plan to give up the fight. Kellie believes the smoking ban should be taken up by every public school district in the state.

She and the other students who startedthe Harford movement are now busy writing staate legislators on the issue.

Kellie believes the students' effort paid off for one reason: persistence.

But that's just half of the reason: They had a very good cause.

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