Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Pasco County Considering Not Hiring Teachers Who Smoke

According to an article in the St. Petersburg Times, the Pasco County (Florida) school board is considering not hiring teachers who smoke. At present, the county refuses to hire school food service workers who smoke. The policy being discussed would extend that restriction to all school district employees.

According to the article, a major reason for the proposed policy is to prevent sending a mixed message about smoking to students. The article quotes a school board member as stating: "We are sending a mixed message when we tell students not to smoke then we allow smoking for teachers."

The policy would apply only to new hires, not to existing employees.

The Rest of the Story

If the school board member really believes that her argument justifies a ban on hiring smokers in the school system, then would she not also have to support a new policy that precludes the hiring of people who drink alcohol, use swear words, or have sex?

After all, students are sent a message that they should not smoke, use alcohol, or swear, and younger students are sent a message that they should not have sex. So to avoid sending a mixed message to students, would it not be important to preclude teachers who smoke, drink, swear, or have sex? You might as well convert the Pasco County public school system into a convent.

I would also point out that if the justification for this proposed policy is to prevent sending a mixed message, then shouldn't the policy apply both to current and new employees? How does a new employee smoking send a mixed message to students, while a current employee smoking does not?

It must be recognized that this policy would result in a substantial problem for many teachers in the County to find employment. It would affect a large number of individuals, as the school system is quite large. There are about 65,000 students, 13 high schools, 15 middle schools, and 45 elementary schools.

It is also important to point out that the policy would result in a decrease in the quality of the teaching staff at these schools. According to the article, 27% of district employees smoke. To reduce the pool of applicants by throwing out 27% of them right from the start is certainly going to result in the inability to hire the best candidates for the job.

Fortunately (and surprisingly), the tobacco prevention program at the Pasco County Health Department appears to have an enlightened and appropriate attitude about the proposed policy: "Lisa Sloan, a tobacco prevention specialist with the Pasco County Health Department, told the board that targeting the workplace rather than employee hiring would likely have more widespread results. It's also easier to regulate what people do at district locations rather than worry about what they do elsewhere, she added. She said that about 27 percent of district employees smoke, and that a new policy supported with health services could help reduce those numbers. Sloan recommended a go-slow approach, to win the widest backing possible.'Smokers are addicted. This is very uncomfortable,' she said. 'They don't like restrictions and they certainly don't like surprises.'"

I agree, and congratulate the Pasco County Health Department for dealing with the issue of employee smoking in the appropriate way. Employment discrimination is not justified, even if it would reduce health insurance costs or improve employee health.

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