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School tobacco ban now 24 hours

August 29, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Smoking is now forbidden on school property at all times, and the rule applies to everyone, including parents.

The Washington County Board of Education changed its policy in April, making the ban last 24 hours a day. Board members are taking a "zero tolerance" approach and emphasizing the rule at the school year's onset.

"We've had a no-smoking policy for a long time, but now we're getting serious about enforcing it," said School Board President Edwin Hayes. "We're not trying to be the smoking police, but we have to practice what we say."

The board's former policy prohibited the sale and use of tobacco products on school grounds during the official school day. The policy taking effect today makes the same prohibition at all times.

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"The real difference is going to be that the community can't smoke on school grounds," said Boonsboro High School Principal Helen Becker. "We're going to need an awful lot of support from the community to enforce that."

After-hours activities such as track meets, baseball games and cheerleader practice will now be smoke-free for participants, visitors and passersby. The new policy also extends the ban to the grounds of all school-sponsored activities, such as a field trips or athletic events.

For example, school group chaperones can't light up at the National Aquarium. Students watching their team play an away football game can't smoke, even if it is permitted in that other county.

Possession, use and sale of tobacco products is already illegal in Maryland for youth under the age of 18. The ban applies to any products derived from the tobacco plant that are chewed, smoked, sniffed or otherwise consumed.

Students caught smoking can be suspended in school for up to two days, according to the board's policy. The second time can result in a three-day out-of-school suspension.

The third offense can result in a five-day suspension and police may be contacted to issue a citation and possibly fine students. Principals can also use alternative punishments, such as community service or Saturday school.

Employees who violate the policy are subject to disciplinary action, but the policy does not state how non-students who do not work for the school system would be punished.

The School Board offered two smoking cessation classes for students at South Hagerstown High School last year, according to Health Resource Teacher Bonnie Forsyth. She said she does not think many school employees smoke.

The Washington County Health Department offers a class for adults. For information on that program, "Stop Smoking for Life," call 301-791-3034.

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