Teachers worried about law prevents smoking on school grounds

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 2, 2000

This school year, Rosalyn Carter is prepared to see &uot;a bunch of nervous teachers&uot; leaving school grounds for a quick smoke as soon as the final bell rings.

A new state law banning tobacco use by anyone on public school property has left some Natchez teachers wondering how they will cope.

&uot;I feel my constitutional rights are being violated,&uot; said Carter, a Central Alternative School teacher who smokes.

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Carter said last year teachers could smoke in designated areas outside school buildings.

But under the new law, no one can smoke or use any tobacco product anywhere on school grounds, including in their vehicles and during after-hours activities such as athletic events.

Superintendent Dr. Carl Davis said smokers need to deal with the change in the best way they can.

&uot;I know it’s going to be an uncomfortable situation and we’re going to work with (teachers) but we’re not going to break the law,&uot; he said. &uot;We’re going to be sensitive but not break the law.&uot;

Davis said the district may not allow teachers to leave campus for a quick puff – at least not on a routine basis.

&uot;I can assure you there will be a bunch of nervous teachers leaving in the afternoon,&uot; said Carter, who thinks she will probably &uot;go crazy&uot; if she cannot smoke during the school day.

The district operates &uot;closed campuses&uot; and no longer allows teachers to leave during lunch-breaks or planning periods because the practice is often abused, he said.

&uot;They’ve got to find a way to deal with the law and our policy, Davis said. &uot;We’re not going to open up an opportunity for everybody to leave,&uot; campus, Davis said.

The state passed this law, which took effect July 1, earlier this year with the support of the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi and several thousand students who lobbied for the bill.

Nicole Boyd, director of the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, said the students wanted this law passed because they thought smoking teachers set a bad example on campus.

&uot;Their biggest concern was for their little brothers and sisters,&uot; Boyd said. &uot;They thought this sent a bad message to their little brothers and sisters.&uot;

The students thought it was also inconsistent for district staff to tell them not to smoke, while some of them smoked, Boyd said.

&uot;I don’t think people realize the impact not just their behavior but other adult behavior has on youth,&uot; Boyd said, adding that 75 percent of children who smoke also have at least one parent who lights up.

Institutes of higher learning – such as junior colleges or places where only adult students attend – are not included in the law.

Any one convicted of breaking the law will receive a warning for their first offense, a fine of $75 for a second offense and fines of up to $150 for additional offenses.

Natchez Police Chief Willie Huff compares the new law to those that allow people to carry guns in vehicles but not onto school grounds.

&uot;You can’t carry a gun in your car on school property so that’s the same difference,&uot;&160;Huff said.

But to further assist smokers and people unfamiliar with the policy, district officials have decided to give people one warning before involving the courts, Davis said.

He thinks it is important to teach children to avoid tobacco.

&uot;I think (we) should be setting the example we want kids to follow,&uot; Davis said.

But Carter said she does not think the law will keep students from smoking.

&uot;The children are going to smoke, Those who want to smoke are going to smoke,&uot; she said.

Carter said she thinks teachers will try to abide by it. &uot;We’re going to do the right thing but we’re not going to be very happy,&uot;&160;she said. &uot;I’m just going to have to deal with it.&uot;

Last year of about 14 teachers at Central School, about eight were smokers, Carter said.

Gloria Warren, another teacher at Central Alternative School who smokes, said she was not surprised by the new law.

&uot;I saw it coming. I knew that it was going to come,&uot; she said.

Warren said she thinks the law will be good for the students because she does not want them to smoke. &uot;I like the law. I don’t think children should be smoking and they do watch us and they do smoke and I do think we set an example by what we do.&uot;

But she also thinks the district needs to make provisions for teachers who smoke.

&uot;If you were allowed to use your lunch time and go smoke but with the closed campus you can’t even do that and that’s where my concerns come in,&uot; Warren said.