Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, June 28, 2012
Smoking policy under review
By Megan Harris
Larry Vick, superintendent of Owensboro Public Schools, asked the Board of Education on Tuesday to take a close look at the district's smoking policy, which prohibits all personnel from using tobacco products in buildings, on school grounds, in district-provided vehicles — including those used during field trips — and in the presence of students.
Vick said the policy, passed in December 1994, was never properly enforced and beckoned board members to either draft new rules or commit to enforcing the current policy as written.
"I was happy upon accepting this job to find out we had a tobacco policy in place, because I'd had to battle at other places to get one," he told the board.
"That was until I came in my first day and couldn't see across the room for all the smoke. We weren't enforcing it, and the truth is, we're still not enforcing to the letter of the policy."
Tobacco products — including, but not limited to, cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco and snuff — are also banned from all athletic and public events held on school premises. While the policy gives the board the option for designated smoking areas, Vick said no such areas exists on any district-owned property.
"At least not officially," he said Wednesday. "I'm sure there are some places where people are dodging in to smoke, like a sidewalk or a personal vehicle, but we didn't approve of them."
The board first discussed the policy at its luncheon Tuesday at the school district's central office. It meets again at 4:30 this afternoon at the central office for its regular monthly meeting, where they will again review the topic.
Robyn Rone, director of regulatory compliance, passed out copies of the 18-year-old policy for review.
Though the current rules are the same for both certified and classified personnel, Vick suggested possibly limiting classified break schedules to be taken on school grounds only.
Teachers and administrators are salaried, Rone said, taking their lunches and breaks on campus, while classified employees usually get a 30-minute, duty-free lunch and two 10-minute breaks during which, for now, they may leave the premises.
Board member Jane Haase recollected when employees would walk across the street to smoke. Vick said he knows it happens and that "it sets a bad example."
"It's my responsibility to see that the board's policy is consistently and fairly enforced," Vick said. "I've been here since 2001. I've been negligent. It's time to get some direction and go from there."
If the board accepts the policy as written, enforcement will begin Sunday.
Modifications would require at least two readings before board approval, pushing the new policy to take effect closer to the start of school.
"It's not an attack. We realize people are addicted to tobacco," Vick said. "The board may decide when they look at this policy that they want to provide a designated area, allow employees to leave campus, smoke in their cars — and that's OK. We have several questions we need to clarify."
In the present policy, violations begin with written warnings and escalate to suspension without pay for up to 10 days. Violations do not roll over from year to year, and employees will never be dismissed based solely on tobacco violations. OPS also covers the cost of cessation classes through the Green River
District Health Department for staff actively seeking to stop smoking.
"We tell our employees, you have to realize you're working in a school system," Haase said. "Our business is to take care of children."
Board member Cate Lauzon agreed with Haase.
"It's not about your rights," she said. "It's about the children's rights to be free of it."