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Districts Adopt Policies To Comply With Federal Smoking Ban

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Washington

Across the country this month, districts fearful of losing federal aid are adopting no-smoking policies to comply with the smoke-free-schools provision of the Goals 2000: Educate America Act.

The provision, signed into law earlier this year, bars smoking as of Dec. 26 in any indoor facility that receives federal money and that provides education or health services to children under age 18. The fine for noncompliance is $1,000 a day until a facility's federal aid is exhausted. (See Education Week, 04/13/94.)

Before the law was enacted, 12 states had already passed legislation prohibiting smoking in schools, and at least 10 legislatures have such bills pending.

Some educators contend that aspects of the federal law are confusing and that it may prove difficult to enforce. But federal officials say the local response has been largely enthusiastic, although they do not know the exact number of districts that have adopted no-smoking policies.

Districts from California to Maine held events earlier this month to celebrate the ban during the Great American Smokeout, a national event designed to bring attention to the hazards of tobacco use. High school students in Van Buren, Me., for instance, held a bonfire in their school parking lot during which they burned hundreds of T-shirts emblazoned with tobacco logos. In exchange for a Joe Camel or Marlboro Man T-shirt, participants received shirts showing a cartoon character stomping out a pack of cigarettes.

In their eagerness to eliminate smoking among young people, several districts have recently moved beyond the ban and adopted harsh penalties for smokers.

New Jersey already had a smoke-free-schools law, but some local districts considered it too lenient and enacted more stringent policies of their own. One district in the state not only expels students caught smoking, but also slaps them with a $100 fine. And the Trenton, N.J., school board is lobbying for a local ordinance that would make smoking on school grounds a criminal misdemeanor.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 3,000 children in the United States start smoking each day. The Clinton Administration has targeted tobacco use by young people as part of its anti-tobacco drive. (See related story )

Confusing and Punitive?

But despite the laudatory goal of preserving children's health, some school districts are experiencing difficulties in implementing the federal ban.

Edward R. Kealy, the director of federal programs for the National School Boards Association, said it is unclear who will be liable if a school is not in compliance by next month's deadline. School boards could be held responsible for behaviors they have little control over, Mr. Kealy said.

And some teachers' unions have expressed concern that the ban could lead to measures that are too punitive. In St. Louis, union officials said, the school district recently disciplined a teacher who was smoking near, but not on, school grounds.

"When the discipline extends beyond schools, we certainly would raise objections," said Darryl Alexander, the occupational- and environmental-health coordinator for the American Federation of Teachers.

(See Education Association senior professional associate, said last week that there is still conflict in some districts over teachers' union contracts that allow limited smoking in teachers' lounges and offices. Some teachers are unhappy with the ban because they feel the existing policies that allow limited smoking in restricted areas do not pose a health risk to students.

A Loss of Revenue?

Some districts have also said the policy will be difficult to enforce without additional personnel.

A few school systems have also complained that compliance with the federal law could mean a loss of revenue from adult activities at which smoking is now allowed.

The Cleveland school district is hoping to persuade state lawmakers to include a waiver in Ohio's pending smoke-free-schools bill that would allow adults to smoke in schools on bingo nights. Bingo games bankroll school sports and other extracurricular activities, Richard Beeler, the athletic director at Harvey High School in Cleveland, was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.

"I don't understand why we can't have smoking in school if it's not in session," he said. "If the state goes through with this, it will cost us half our revenue."

But Frank Barham, the executive director of the Virginia School Boards Association, said that education leaders in his state are not too worried about the law because many feel it may be overturned by the next Congress. With the Republicans in control of the House and the Senate, he said, the federal law might ultimately be scrapped, and state policymakers do not want to have to adopt a no-smoking law only to repeal it.

"Most people here are going to wait and sit back and see what they do in Washington," he said.

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