Paddling Makes a Comeback in a Missouri School District
The announcement of a Missouri school district that it is bringing back paddling has garnered a lot of attention and dismay this week. But corporal punishment – with an interruption, perhaps, in some places thanks to the coronavirus pandemic – has never been carried over to a large number of schools.
Despite efforts to eliminate it, the practice remains legal in 19 states, mostly in the South.
And although numbers have declined over the past decade, nearly 70,000 public school children were subjected to corporal punishment in the 2017-18 school year, the most recent year for which federal data is available. About 4,000 schools reported using corporal punishment during that school year.
“It’s a really, really disturbing practice that still hangs in some districts,” said Morgan Craven, national director of policy, advocacy and community engagement at the Intercultural Development Research Association. Federal ban on corporal punishment in schools.
The practice, defined as paddling, spanking or other forms of physical discipline, was back in the news this week with the announcement that the school district of Cassville, a small town in southwestern Missouri, had reinstated paddling, a practice which was abandoned in 2001. According to The Springfield News-Leader.
Corporal punishment shall be used only with the parent’s permission and “only when all other alternative means of discipline have failed, and then only as appropriate and on the recommendation of the principal,” the district’s policy states. It was put up in response to requests from parents, the superintendent, Marilyn Johnson, told The News-Leader.
“We have really thanked the people for this,” he told the newspaper. “Surprisingly, people on social media who hear us say these things might be shocked, but most of the people I’ve met have supported.”
Dr. Johnson did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.
The practice remains legal due to a more than 40-year-old US Supreme Court ruling. In 1977, the court ruled in Ingraham v Wright that corporal punishment in public schools was constitutional, meaning each state could make its own rules about physically disciplining students.
If one adult were to paddle another with a wooden board, it would be considered an attack, says Elizabeth T. Gershoff, professor of human development and family science at the University of Texas at Austin.
“But when the teacher hits a little person, who happens to be a kid, these states and these schools are saying it’s okay,” she said. “It’s showing that we give less protection to children from violence than to adults.”
Groups such as the American Psychological Association, which have opposed corporal punishment in schools since 1975, have long argued that paddling can cause injury and trauma and is not effective in improving behavior.
Conversely, according to the association, children become more aggressive and disruptive the more often they are given corporal punishment.
Critics also cite research showing that black students and students with disabilities are more likely to paddle in school than their peers.
Although they constitute only 15 percent of public school students in the United States, according to the association, black students are subject to 37 percent of school corporal punishment. Children with disabilities account for 21 percent of all cases of corporal punishment, even though they make up 17 percent of the student population.
In the past five years, four states – Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee – have banned schools from using corporal punishment against children with disabilities, although Oklahoma has only banned the practice for students with severe disabilities, Professor Gershoff said.
Ms Craven said it was disturbing that some schools continue to use corporal punishment while children face more serious mental health challenges, partly because of the pandemic. The American Academy of Pediatrics declared child and adolescent mental health a “national emergency” in October.
“We know they need support and we know they need some form of support,” such as counselors and teachers from different backgrounds who can recognize trauma, Craven said. “And so using a method like corporal punishment that just re-traumatizes children is really disturbing and harmful.”
Professor Gershoff said that while she was disappointed that the District of Missouri had reinstated paddling, she hoped it would lead to a wider debate about the practice.
“Most countries think it was abolished long ago,” she said. “It’s reminding a lot of people that we need to think about this. Do we think it’s okay that the state is killing children in our name? And, if not, we need to end it.” should work in that direction.”