School Board tables possible tobacco ban for one month

The Henrico County School Board yesterday tabled for at least a month a proposal that would ban tobacco use on all school property and at school-sponsored events held elsewhere.

The board opted to continue surveying stakeholders during the next month through an online survey to receive more feedback about the issue. Board members also requested specific statistics about how many schools in the county already are entirely tobacco-free and whether those schools have experienced any problems with their policies.

The proposal, recommended by the school system's 15-member safety committee, is designed largely as a public health matter, according to Chris Bailor, the safety and security coordinator for the system. About half of all student visits to school clinics are related to respiratory issues, she said.

Current HCPS policy allows individual principals to set their own conditions for tobacco and cigarette use on their campuses by adults, staff members and visitors, and some schools already ban tobacco entirely. Some offer designated smoking areas for staff members and visitors, while others do not, Deputy Superintendent Pat Kinlaw told the board.

During a work session yesterday, Fairfield District School Board member Lamont Bagby initially suggested that it might make sense to provide a designated smoking area, particularly at campus-style schools and events such as football games.

"I don't want people who support children to not be able to feel like they can go support children," Bagby said, suggesting that smokers might opt to stay home rather than attend school events if they couldn't smoke.

Bagby seemed to back-track later, however, after hearing from Henrico High School Principal Ron Rodriguez, whose campus-style school has outlawed tobacco use for years. Rodriguez told the board there had been no initial pushback to the policy from staff members or visitors after it was implemented and no issues with it in the years since.

Deputy County Attorney Tom Tokarz told the board that the proposed policy likely would need to be adjusted slightly so that it did not overstep its legal bounds. The current proposal would attempt to prohibit tobacco use at school system events off county-owned property – which theoretically could include a sporting event hosted by a school in another county. It would be unlikely that Henrico could impose such a restriction on another jurisdiction's property, Tokarz said.

Thirty-three other school systems in Virginia – none in the Metro Richmond region – currently are tobacco-free, Bailor said.

The online survey, which had concluded, is expected to be re-activated soon on the school system's website here: http://www.henrico.k12.va.us/survey/TobaccoUseonSchoolProperty.html.

The board expects to consider the issue again during its Sept. 27 meeting.



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