The county Board of Education will propose a total ban on smoking inschool buildings when they launch contract negotiations in November.
Currently, no public school system in the state bans teachers andschool employees from smoking in school buildings.
"It's an admirable goal that we ought to pursue. I would support any position that came out of the negotiations," said school board member Ronald Eaton.
Other school board members agreed. But Christine Haggett, president of the Harford County Education Association, thebargaining agent for teachers and other school employees, said: "We are not going to take a position now."
The issue was raised at theBoard of Education's monthly meeting Monday night by 16 Fallston High students who asked the board to ban smoking by school employees to protect the students' health.
"Banning smoking is a legal and moral responsibility, and public schools are behind the times," Lisa Licari, 16, one of the students, told the board. She noted that smoking is prohibited in Harford County government and some federal buildings.
"Secondhand smoke definitely causes cancer," another student, Kellie V. Knight, 16, told the board. She said students are particularlyvulnerable because cigarette smoke from smoking areas can spread to other areas through the school's ventilation system.
"Almost all of us are breathing in tobacco whether we realize it or not," said Kellie.
Fallston High student Shara E. Sheckells, 16, told the board she suffers from asthma and finds it difficult to breathe when passing smoking areas at Fallston High.
"Most people who don't have asthma take breathing for granted," she said. "And smoking precipitates asthma attacks."
Students are banned from smoking on school property by a state board of education policy. But teachers and other schoolemployees may smoke in designated areas of most school buildings, usually teacher lounges.
Some of the Fallston students contend teachers abuse the smoking privilege, saying they have smelled smoke in classrooms.
The students want a ban by the start of school in September. But Harford board members said a ban would have to wait until contract negotiations with the Harford County Education Association.
Harford school board member George Lisby supports discussing the issue at contract negotiations and says there is a "good possibility" itwill have the strong backing of the board.
Lisby noted that a banwas discussed in 1988 during the last contract negotiations but was opposed by the union. This year, he said, there will be "a more favorable climate" because of smoking bans in the workplace and in government buildings.
Board member Anne D. Sterling said she favors negotiations about a ban, but she said the board may have to give up something to get the teachers to go along. "We will have to pay for it," she said.
School board President Richard C. Molinaro said, "Whetherit can be done in November, I don't know. . . . There's always a give and take during negotiations. Obviously it will be brought up."
Students have started calling the state Board of Education and hope to address the state board about the issue.
In the past, the state board has refused to ban smoking on school property. In previous cases, the board ruled that smoking by teachers is a county issue to be discussed at local contract talks, said Valerie V. Cloutier, assistantattorney general and principal counsel for the state Department of Education.
In 1988, Cloutier said, when Frederick County tried to ban all smoking in school, the state board ruled that smoking lounges in school buildings could remain if agreed to contractually.
Although board members said such a ban would have to be worked out in contract negotiations, the current contract contains no language guaranteeing school employees the right to smoke in schools, acknowledged Haggett of the Harford County Education Association.
BOARD MEETING MOVED
The Board of Education has moved its June 17 public meeting to discuss capital projects and redistricting proposals. The 7 p.m. meeting will be conducted at Southampton Middle School in Bel Air instead of the Board of Education office.