Lisa Licari and her school pal, Kellie Knight, both all of 16, are gearing up to take on the proverbial city hall.
But the Powers ThatBe allied against them are strong, they believe, and they fully expect these powers to turn a deaf ear.
Yet, come tomorrow night at the county Board of Education meeting, armed with a sense of mission and elan, they plan to launch their assault on an intriguing school policy that allows teachers and other employees to smoke in designated areas, usually teachers lounges. Students, by the way, are prohibited to smoke in school by a state Boardof Education regulation.
Lisa, Kellie and eight other students want smoking banned -- absolutely, positively, completely -- in all county schools and buildings.
No public school system in Maryland hassuch a ban.
I say the current policy is "intriguing" because we assume the ban on student smoking is meant to protect their health andkeep them from starting into a bad habit. Yet the county school board -- or probably more accurately the work contract with school employees -- allows school employees to smoke in school. When contrasted with the student ban, this must only mean the county school board and the employees' bargaining agent don't give a hoot about employees' health.
Lisa and Kellie see it a different way. They see the policy as meaning the school board hasn't thought long and hard about the effects of so-called second-hand smoke on students' health. They hadn't either, they admit, until during a discussion of current issues in a journalism class they were presented with a Readers Digest article onsecond-hand smoke. What they learned from that piece, entitled "Excuse me, do you mind if I give you cancer?" inspired a renegade attitude in them toward smokers and smoking in school.
But their inspiration to actually do something about their opinion
comes, in part, from the words of Jim O'Toole, their journalism class teacher who toldthem that "one person can make a difference."
I called up O'Tooleto ask him why 10 high school kids would get riled up enough to go before the Board of Education and, as Lisa puts it, "demand" that the smoking policy be changed. "What I try to do in this class is get across the idea that journalism really requires being responsible and taking initiative. Through initiative you can tackle problems other people may view as insurmountable. That requires risk, of course," said O'Toole.
Lisa and Kellie say the information they had gathered on second-hand smoke was too compelling to let the issue just drift.
Consider what I found: A panel of scientists in December 1990 said second-hand cigarette smoke should be declared a known cause of lung cancer and workplace smoking policies should reflect that hazard. They were concurring with two Environmental Protection Agency reports. TheEPA reports concluded cigarette smoke causes 3,800 lung cancer casesper year in non-smokers, and the scientists in fact said the EPA understated the dangers of respiratory illness among children whose parents smoke.
The Fallston High kids banded in this venture found in their investigation that the school has a closed ventilation system. To them, that means students eventually breathe the air loaded with cigarette smoke contaminants circulated from the teachers' smoking lounge.
If that doesn't move you, think about this analogy: Suppose every day in one room of each and every school building an unseen, noxious gas mixture seeped into the air and national research showed that the gas could, over a period of time, eventually cause schoolchildren to get cancer or develop heart disease. How would you want local boards of education to respond? You'd want them to rush like bloody hell to have the gas turned off at the source, right?
Even though these Fallston High kids are skeptical that the Board of Education willseriously consider their call for action, they have some recent history going for them.
As of Jan. 2, the county government banned allsmoking in all county buildings. If you are a county employee and want to have a smoke, you must go outside and light up. The federal government and most major businesses (including this newspaper) have virtually the exact same policy.
And on April 1, a student at WesternMaryland College in Carroll County single-handedly got the college president and All-College Council to ban smoking completely in all school buildings.
Now, we all know and expect those teachers and school employees who smoke to whine about a "right" being taken away fromthem if the Board of Education takes up the gauntlet that Lisa and Kellie throw down on Monday.
But Kellie puts it this way: "We can choose our classes, but under the present policy we can't choose whether we want cancer or not." When you look at it that way you have a different perspective on whose "rights" are being infringed.
If Lisa, Kellie and company don't get action from the Board of Education on the health argument, they have a school policy already in place they plan to ask be invoked: their school is a declared "drug-free zone" and nicotine, you see, is considered one of the most addictive substances around.
Bye, bye smoke.