Harford schools may be state's first to ban tobacco


It appears Harford County will be the first public school system in the state to ban smoking and other tobacco use by all school employees.

A majority of the county school board said last week that it favors the proposed all-out ban on tobacco in schools.

All tobacco use, including chewing tobacco products, by employees in all Board of Education properties, including school buildings and vehicles, would be banned under the proposal.

The board is to vote on the policy at its monthly meeting tomorrow night.

The Prince George's County school board adopted a ban, which takes effect in September, on employee smoking and tobacco use in its public schools.

The Harford school board is proposing that its ban take effect July 1.

Harford government instituted a ban on tobacco use in all county-owned or leased buildings last year.

Five of the six school board members contacted late last week said they planned to vote in support of the proposed ban. And the sixth member, who could not be reached for comment, has been a leader in the effort to adopt an all-out tobacco ban in county schools.

A group of students from Fallston High School, concerned about the known health effects of secondary smoke, began lobbying the school board for the ban last summer.

Students are already barred from smoking on public school property statewide.

Christine Haggett, president of the Harford County Education Association, said the union, which represents about 1,450 county public school teachers, decided not to bargain on the issue during recent contract talks. The union waived its right to bargain on the issue for one year, she said.

"We didn't want to tie up the whole contract over one issue," Haggett said.

Currently, teachers are restricted to smoking in school faculty lounges. Many large schools, Haggett said, have smoking and non-smoking teacher lounges.

In a new work contract, Harford's blue-collar school board employees agreed in writing to the tobacco ban. The union representing school management employees declined to negotiate the issue in contract talks, but agreed not to oppose the school board policy on employee smoking.

Under the proposed ban, teachers and other school employees would only be able to smoke outside in areas "designated" by Ray R. Keech, Harford's superintendent of schools.

"The no-smoking ban is not a controversial issue and it should pass," predicted Albert F. Seymour, spokesman for the county public school system.

School board members who said last week they would vote for the smoking ban are: George D. Lisby, president; Anne D. Sterling, vice president; Ronald R. Eaton, Violet D. Merryman and Percy V. Williams. The remaining board member, Keith A. Williams, could not be reached for comment, but he was a leader in the effort to have the proposed policy drafted and introduced.

The state Board of Education has ruled that a smoking policy is a working condition that must be negotiated with employees, in the absence of a statewide policy -- which may be on the way.

The state school board has proposed a statewide ban, which could come up for a vote at its June 24 meeting. The proposed ban would not take effect until 1993.

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