Smoking policy at Pasco schools under fire

Fifty Pasco schools still allow staff to smoke

PASCO COUNTY, Fla. - At Bayonet Point Middle School, a sign declares the campus a tobacco-free facility. But it only applies to parents and students.

Staff is allowed to smoke behind the school in a tented area next to a memorial garden honoring those from the school who have died.

"Because a lot of them died from cancer, there's a lot of our staff that's very passionate about doing away with the smoking area," Principal Michael Asbell said. "But we still have quite a few staff that smoke."

Bayonet Point is one of 50 Pasco County schools where a policy allows smoking in designated outdoor areas if the campus was built before 1996.

Assistant Superintendent Ray Gadd called the policy hypocritical.

"We are in an institution where we are teaching kids that smoking is bad for you," he said, "yet we are allowing it and in essence condoning it on our school campuses."

Staff can vote each year to go smoke free, but all it takes is one employee to object.

The policy says the smoking area must be shielded from student view, although eighth grader Mykenzie Robertson said when she was in elementary school the smoke shack, as it was called, was right next to a playground.

She's now part of Students Working Against Tobacco, or SWAT.

"Teachers are influences for all kids at the schools, so I think it's a real problem when a little child sees their teacher smoking. We want to promote healthy living," she said.

The teachers union president Lynn Webb said she believes it's time reevaluate the policy, but it will have to be done during collective bargaining negotiations. She said while smoking is unhealthy, it's not unlawful.

The district said the union refuses to negotiate on the issue. But Webb told me the district has never formally asked the union to make all schools no smoking.

"It seems to me like something they would just concede is inappropriate if they have the welfare of students at heart," Gadd said.

Staff at Hillsborough County schools are allowed to smoke outside, although new policies are under consideration.

A spokesperson for Pinellas County schools said the district does not allow smoking on its properties.

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