Wise School Board discusses tobacco use at football games, closed session policies

Stephen Igo • Jun 10, 2014 at 10:54 PM

WISE — The days of lighting up at Wise County high school football games may be a thing of the past if deliberations of the county school board result in adoption of a tobacco free policy toward that end.

On Tuesday the board discussed adopting a policy to extend its ban on the use of tobacco products that currently applies to indoor school division properties to outdoor athletic events. Donnese Kern, Wayne Leftwich and Board Chairman Nolan Kilgore spoke in favor of the ban.

Kern said she gets migraines from tobacco smoke and often must find another seat when attending area football games if in the vicinity of smokers. Kilgore said he and his wife have had to move as well, and non-smokers shouldn't be subjected to the inconvenience of finding another seat or the health implications of secondhand smoke.

John Schoolcraft said his initial concern at this stage would be enforcement. Kilgore said enforcement concerns shouldn't hold up good policy and will be addressed as needed. All agreed that educating the public about the policy would be part of the deal.

Not brought up during Tuesday's discussions was the matter of Bullitt Park, a facility including a football stadium that serves as the home field for the Union High School Bears gridiron team. Bullitt Park is owned by the town of Big Stone Gap, not the school division.

Mullins later told the Times-News the Bullitt Park issue would likely be the subject of discussions between the school division and the town, should the school board eventually ban smoking at football games.

No action was taken but the matter will likely come forward during future sessions. The board also discussed, at length, potential reconfirmation of the board's closed session policy without taking action on Tuesday.

At issue is a longstanding board practice — but one not enunciated in current closed session policy — of inviting individuals to address the board in closed session if "sponsored" by a board member.

Tuesday's discussion primarily focused on the desires of possibly aggrieved employees or parents of disciplined children who wish to state their concerns, issues and/or opinions to the board in a private setting.

Under state law only specific, limited items may be taken up by the board in closed session, and personnel or disciplinary matters are among them. On Tuesday school board attorney Scott Mullins urged board members to take great care in who they might wish to invite to address the board in closed session, and why. He added that his function as board attorney is to "be that filter" to stop invitations he would perceive to be violations of state law.

The recommendation of Schools Superintendent Jeff Perry on Tuesday was essentially to follow existing policy, where the board needn't change the policy, but change the practice of single board member sponsored invitees.

Mark Hutchinson said the matter hasn't been a major issue causing "major damage" in the past, particularly referring to potential liability issues, but such invitations have served the board well "to learn how somebody else thinks about an issue." Hutchinson said open communication between the board, employees and the public is a good thing.

Mullins said there's nothing wrong with open communication, but the law involving closed sessions is another matter.

"Let me be clear," Mullins said. "Two-way communication is one thing. Closed session is another. You are very limited what you can go back there and talk about."

Discussion on Tuesday seemed to come to agreement that anyone invited to participate in a closed session will take a majority vote by the board in the future.

In other matters, the board was informed the Loop Road project at the three-school complex in Big Stone Gap is proceeding "as planned," with expectations that much of the traffic improvement project should be mostly complete by August with total completion expected in September.

The board also formally canceled next month's regularly scheduled meeting. The board typically cancels meetings in July because of vacation plans by members, administrators and the public.

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