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Hernando School Board may adopt comprehensive smoking ban

BROOKSVILLE — There aren't many places where Hernando school workers and visitors can smoke on district property. Soon, there may be no places at all.

The School Board on Tuesday will consider a comprehensive tobacco-free policy, advocated by the state Department of Health, that would forbid smoking and other forms of tobacco use on all district property, including athletic fields and parking lots.

That means snuffing out designating smoking areas on school campuses and on other property where students rarely or never go, such as the maintenance office and the district administration headquarters in Brooksville.

"We have a no-smoking policy at schools," said superintendent Bryan Blavatt. "As far as I'm concerned, it's just affirming what we already have now."

In fact, the proposed policy would go much further than the rules now on the books.

The district currently forbids the use of tobacco products "in any area utilized by students or designated for student activities." That gives some leeway for designated smoking areas for employees at schools. It also allows workers to smoke in their cars.

The designated areas are typically in places not visible to students, like a loading dock or a fenced-in space behind a school. Employees who work at the other district properties, such as the facilities and maintenance office on Mobley Road, also have designated smoking areas.

The new policy would require an employee or visitor smoking in their car on the way to work put out the cigarette as soon as the wheels of the car roll onto school property. That would affect employees as high up as Blavatt, who smokes cigars in his car and puts them out before entering his office.

As Tresa Watson, executive director for the Tobacco Free Hernando Partnership, puts it: "No smoking at any time, for any person."

The partnership is an initiative funded by the Department of Health's Bureau of Tobacco. In June, Gov. Rick Scott signed a law amending the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act to give school boards the authority to designate all district property as tobacco-free. Since then, Watson and her counterparts throughout the state have ramped up efforts to get school boards to approve a comprehensive tobacco-free policy.

Watson reached out to Blavatt to get the item on a board agenda. Earlier this month, she sent a letter to Chairman James Yant expressing disappointment that the superintendent had indicated he would not bring the issue before the board anytime soon unless board members wanted to tackle the policy.

Yant passed the letter on to Blavatt, who placed the item on the agenda for Tuesday.

"A smoke-free environment creates a safe and healthy workplace," Watson said. "And most smokers start before the age of 18, so it's a prevention vehicle. We want to send a good health message."

A policy that discourages smoking also might help reduce health care costs, Watson said. It would be up to the district to come up with punishments for violating the policy.

The district does not track the number of smokers in the work force, so it's unclear how many employees would be affected.

Yant said he's open to the idea but has concerns. Ordering employees addicted to nicotine to go as many as eight hours without smoking might wind up having an adverse affect.

"I can see smokers being more tense, having more issues that will cause them to be less productive if that's eliminated," Yant said.

The Pasco School District is working toward adopting the policy. Currently, 30 percent of its schools are already tobacco-free, said Lisa Sloan, Watson's counterpart in Pasco. But the district contract with the union representing noninstructional employees specifies that schools built before July 1, 1996, must have outdoor smoking areas for employees. District officials are currently negotiating the issue with the union.

The contracts for Hernando teachers and noninstructional employees have no such clauses. The board should consider, however, that teachers and the rest of the work force are already coping with more regulations and bigger workloads with little to no increase in pay, said Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association.

"My greatest concern is the well-being of the students, and one of the things that drives student well-being is staff morale," Vitalo said.

The district does not have smoking cessation programs, Vitalo noted.

The tobacco free partnership can help with that, Watson said. Among the resources available are individual counseling and group sessions to help employees quit.

Representatives for the Hernando United School Workers did not return messages seeking comment.

Staffers for at least one Hernando school are already making do with limited smoking ability. Central High School principal Joe Clifford did away with the designated smoking area when he arrived at the school a few years ago. If you want to smoke on campus, you do so in your car.

The main reason, Clifford said, is to set a good example for students. Told of the proposal to go completely tobacco free, Clifford was supportive, although with a reservation.

"I think that would be hard to enforce because I'm not going to be walking in the parking lot to see if my staff members are smoking in their cars," he said. "I need to be in the classrooms."

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

Hernando School Board may adopt comprehensive smoking ban 09/30/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 30, 2011 7:58pm]
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