Palm Beach County School District bans smoking on all school properties

UPDATE: The Palm Beach County School Board agreed on Wednesday night to ban smoking on all school properties. The new policy go in effect January 2, 2012.

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It might soon be easier for people to pack heat at the Palm Beach County School District's headquarters than it will be to break open a pack of Parliament Light 100s.

The Palm Beach County School Board will vote on two proposed policy updates at Wednesday's school board meeting governing where firearms will be allowed on school district property and where people can smoke.

The new tobacco policy, which would take effect Jan. 1, would ban all smoking or use of other tobacco products by anyone, including parents and employees, anywhere on any district-owned property or school-sanctioned event. Currently district policy allows adults to smoke outdoors at school campuses and other district properties if they are at least 50 feet away from a building exit, said Dianne Howard, district director of risk and benefit management.

Legislators earlier this year amended a state law to allow a complete ban of smoking anywhere on school district property. At least one major public school district, Orange County Public Schools, has already enforced the new ban.

"We're hoping some employees will find it more difficult to smoke and really buckle down on quitting," Howard said.

Earlier this year, the district created a tobacco surcharge for employees charging them an extra $50 per month for health insurance if they did not sign an affidavit swearing they did not use tobacco. Howard said 1,500 employees either said they did smoke or never returned any affidavit and were thus considered tobacco users and charged the extra $50.

Howard said banning smoking anywhere on campus also sets a good example for students if they don't see adults smoking at school.

Tony Hernandez, executive director of the Classroom Teachers Association union that represents roughly 12,000 teachers in the district, said he had not received any complaints from employees about the proposed smoking ban. With smoking being banned at restaurants, parks and many public places, Hernandez said he is not surprised to see the district banning it on school property.

"That's the way things are headed," he said.

Audrey Silk, of the New York City-based Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment smoking rights group, said banning smoking even outdoors on college campus has started to become more common . She called the move part of an ongoing effort by anti-smoking groups to try to slowly try to outlaw smoking e.

"They've been working on this, and I give them credit for it, for over 30 years," Silk said. "This is the point in their incrementalism that they are up to. They've reached the outdoors now."

The firearms update, which would take effect immediately, simply makes the district's weapons policy match a new state law that took effect Oct. 1. That law says local governments cannot make laws on where firearms can be carried that are more restrictive than state laws.

Current district policy prohibits possessing firearms or having them in a car on any school district property. State law specifically allows banning guns on school buses, at any "schools" defined as elementary, middle, high schools or career centers and bans guns at school board meetings.

Weapons will still be banned from those areas under the new district policy, said Elizabeth McBride, the school district's senior counsel.

But McBride said that under state law, certain facilities such as the Fulton-Holland Education Services Center on Forest Hill Boulevard, where district administrative offices are housed, are not considered "schools" and the district does not have the right to ban firearms there - except for during school board meetings.

The City of West Palm Beach went through a similar debate recently when Mayor Jeri Muoio received criticism from gun rights activists after she tried to ban firearms from city hall. Muoio eventually changed her ruling and allowed people to carry firearms in city hall.

 

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