Students in the vanguard as schools go smoke-free


In the effort to make Harford schools smoke-free, you might say Jarrettsville Elementary School has been on the cutting edge.

The school has been voluntarily smokeless for more than a year. Principal Gerry Mack says the school made the transition very smoothly.

"We talked to the people who smoked and they all agreed to go along with the voluntary ban. I don't know what would have happened if someone would have refused to stop," he said.

Harford's other 43 public schools will follow suit this summer -- whether they want to or not.

The county's six-member school board voted unanimously Monday to ban all tobacco use inside school system buildings and vehicles, beginning July 1.

On that day Harford will become the first county school system in Maryland to bar all tobacco use in buildings and vehicles. Prince George's County has adopted a tobacco ban in its schools, but it does not take effect until September.

The new policy will affect Harford school system workers and visitors. Use of tobacco by students was banned long ago.

The move to bar tobacco began after a group of Fallston High students lobbied the board for the ban and presented scientific evidence showing that so-called secondhand smoke was harmful.

Jarrettsville Elementary's ban resulted from student efforts, too.

Fifth-grade teacher Gemma Hoskins said her class decided to start a campaign for a smoke-free school last year as part of project on persuasive writing.

Last year, Hoskins was named Teacher of the Year in Harford and the state. Next week she will testify before the state school board on its proposed statewide ban on smoking in schools. The measure is set for a vote at the June 24 meeting, but would not take effect until next year. The ban would prohibit all tobacco use inside school buildings and on school grounds during the school day.

"I'm going, when I talk, to use the words the children used in their smoke-free resolution. It's important for kids to know that when they want to speak, there are adults who will be a channel for them," she said.

About seven employees at Jarrettsville Elementary smoked when the students proposed the voluntary ban, Mack said.

Pat Burdette, a smoker who works in the school's cafeteria, said she doesn't find the ban to be a hardship. Burdette, who has smoked for about 25 years, said she usually doesn't smoke in restaurants or in people's homes, so the transition to not smoking in the school was not difficult.

Harford school employees will be allowed to smoke outdoors only in areas designated by school Superintendent Ray R. Keech.

"We will make every effort to work with the people who live in the buildings to establish a spot [for smoking] in a reasonable location which is out of the normal traffic flow," Keech said. However, suitable outside spots might not be possible at some buildings, he said.

Keech said teachers must be mindful that they are role models, and added that he doesn't want them smoking in the front of school buildings.

The superintendent said the new ban will be strictly enforced, noting that "disciplinary action" may be taken against offenders of the new policy, and "could lead to dismissal."

Currently, school employees are allowed to smoke in faculty lounges. Some schools have both smoking and non-smoking lounges.

"I'm proud that we were able to do something," said Patricia Tilley, a senior at Fallston. Students have a right not to be subjected to secondhand smoke while in school, she added.

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