Teachers can huff, but not puff, at school

June 25, 1992|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Staff Writer

The State Board of Education, despite objections from teachers unions, voted yesterday to ban all smoking on public school property during the school day.

A regulation tentatively adopted by the board would prohibit teachers, students, staff and visitors from smoking outside or inside school buildings.

"It's an issue of health," board member Harry D. Shapiro said yesterday. "I don't smoke, but I'm at risk from second-hand smoke."

Teachers unions intend to keep battling the ban, which they say is a "working condition" issue that should be negotiated by school boards and teachers unions in each county.

At least four counties, including Carroll and Harford, already have banned indoor smoking in schools.

No county currently bans outdoor smoking for teachers, according to Jane Stern, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association.

"Our objection is that this pre-empts our right to negotiate the solution," Ms. Stern said.

"Smoking is a legal behavior and the question is, can these adults engage in what is a legal behavior during the workday in a way that many other adults in other enterprises can," Ms. Stern said.

The General Assembly's Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee, which reviews state regulations, has asked the attorney general's office to say whether the board has the authority to pass such a ban.

"As much as we are for it, do we have the right to take away something in the collective bargaining of the teachers association?" asked Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, the panel's chairwoman.

"We're just looking for the proper authority before it's a done deal."

Ms. Hollinger, a Democrat from Baltimore County, said the legislature may have to change the law to allow the smoking ban to be implemented.

Yesterday's vote was a departure for the board, which ruled in a 1988 Frederick County case that smoking limitations were a matter to be negotiated in each county.

The regulation passed yesterday, if given final approval, would go into effect before the start of school in 1993.

The only board member voting against the ban was John C. Sprague, a smoker, who called the measure an inappropriate exercise in behavior modification.

"I think we're exceeding our bounds trying to legislate something we think is stupid," Mr. Sprague said. "It won't stop smoking."

Principals, Mr. Sprague added, may be forced to discipline otherwise fine teachers for sneaking cigarettes on school grounds.

The ban, Ms. Stern pointed out, also could force teachers and students to leave school grounds to smoke.

The regulation would not apply to public events such as football games on school property after school hours.

"We'll have a lot of people this will cause problems for," said board member Rose LaPlaca.

"But eventually, after several years, it will be something people are used to."

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