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Smoking Lamp Winks Off for Pupils, Teachers

January 08, 1987|CARMEN VALENCIA | Times Staff Writer

A new state law is extinguishing students' cigarettes at area high schools where smoking has been allowed for the past eight years.

And one school district has used the opportunity to reach into smoky teacher lounges by applying a little-known law that allows employees at individual school sites to decide whether to allow smoking.

The new law, which went into effect Jan. 1, prohibits all students from smoking on campus or at school-related activities such as football games and proms. Students caught smoking are subject to suspension or expulsion.

Taking it a step further, the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District approved a policy Monday banning smoking from all district property, including the board meeting room. The policy, however, provides an exception: If a majority of employees on an individual campus approve, an area for smoking by staff and faculty can be designated.

Time to Prepare

District officials said schools will be given some time to prepare for the employee vote, and if smoking is allowed, to decide upon a designated area before the policy goes into effect. Teachers are now allowed to smoke only in specific areas, such as faculty lounges.

However, smoking for students has been outlawed since Monday at the district's only campus where it had been allowed, El Camino Continuation School in La Mirada.

"It will be difficult for us. We don't want to turn them off from school," said Principal Columba Kaufman, referring to students who have grown used to smoking on campus. In most cases, she said, students who are attending continuation school are those who have committed several infractions at a regular high school, including smoking cigarettes on campus.

"It will require extra policing, " she said.

The students--about 400 are enrolled at El Camino--were told about the pending law in September, Kaufman said. The smoking area was "very gradually diminished" between September and January.

Even so, she said, there have been "lots of grumbles" from students.

Urging Smokers to Quit

Terry McAlpine, an ABC Unified School District spokeswoman, said students in that district's only continuation school were turning the anti-smoking law into a campaign for students to quit smoking permanently.

Tracy High School students have "tried to turn this into a positive kind of thing," said McAlpine. She said students sold sugarless candy to help the smokers make it through the day. "It's tough for them not to smoke."

Norwalk-La Mirada board member Nancy Jenkins said the district decided to dust off a 5-year-old state law that allows employees to monitor smoking on school facilities and combine it with the new state law into a single policy.

"Only now did our school district get around to addressing" the law, said Jenkins, who noted that the school board was approached last year by school employees who wanted to ban smoking from the teachers' lounges. "Employees should have the ability to discuss that and make that decision."

The ban on student smoking is part of the "move toward no smoking" at all workplaces, said Jack Erikson, a consultant with the Los Angeles County Office of Education. He said he does not foresee problems in carrying out the state law because "there weren't that many schools allowing smoking" for students.

Smokers Cross the Street

Erikson--who aids school districts with student, health and discipline issues--said many school districts have adopted a no-smoking policy that applies to everyone across the board. He cited one district in Kern County, for example, where teachers have to walk across the street to smoke during recess.

At Long Beach Unified School District, for example, teachers have already designated smoking areas at all school facilities, said spokesman Richard Van Der Laan.

A 1986 National School Boards Assn. survey found that out of 714 districts polled nationwide, nine out of 10 prohibited high school students from smoking on campus, and 2% banned smoking by everyone, including teachers.

Neither the new law nor the school policy at Norwalk-La Mirada provides for a penalty for adults who are caught smoking.

Jenkins said she hopes that peer pressure will act as a deterrent for adult smokers.

Fewer are Lighting Up

School officials said that since there are fewer and fewer smokers on school campuses, the policy should be implemented without a hitch. Board member Marjorie Beckman said she will be "totally shocked" if any of the schools decide to allow smoking.

Erland Eberhard, principal of Norwalk High School, estimates there are about 20 smokers in his 150-member staff.

"People are more health conscious than they have been in the past," Erikson said. "Smoking is not one of our major offenses on campus."

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