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State Journal: Lighting up; Group Psychology

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Rhode Island's House majority leader is betting that loosening the state's ban on moking in schools will mean bigger bingo profits for education. Rep. George Caruolo is sponsoring a bill that would allow smoking in public and private schools during bingo nights or other after-hours events for adults.

Some parochial schools, which depend on such fund-raising efforts, had seen attendance at bingo games slide since the state passed the ban two years ago. In some areas, school officials said, more than half of the bingo regulars switched to private social clubs.

However, lifting the ban could prove a losing proposition for some schools, since a law Congress enacted last year bars federal aid to any facility serving children that does not have a firm no-smoking policy.

Anti-smoking lobbyists say a repeal would also contradict the state's hard line against tobacco use, which is preached in mandatory health-education classes in K-12 schools.

"We really want to avoid the 'Do as I say, not as I do' rationale," said John Fulton, the chief of health promotion for the state health department.

A recent debate in the North Dakota House over a bill that would have allowed parents to enroll their children in private school just before their fifth birthdays turned into something close to a group-therapy session.

Lawmakers took turns telling how their own early enrollment in school and the early enrollment of family members had left deep emotional and psychological scars.

"I was never able to catch up in athletics," one lawmaker lamented. "I was always shorter than the other kids."

Another said his grandmother started school early and skipped several grades--but wound up in the state mental hospital.

"I experienced one frustration after another," said Rep. Ole Aarsvold, who recalls being closer in age to the children in the grade behind him than to his peers.

"We are, in fact, pushing our children along too quickly," he said. "We're growing them up too fast."

Proponents of the bill, which would have allowed private schools to enroll 4-year-olds in kindergarten, said it would have let parents and teachers judge what was best for each child.

But the confessions were apparently convincing. The bill was defeated on a 55-to-39 vote.

--Joanna Richardson & Lonnie Harp

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