Paddling Makes a Comeback in a Missouri School District – The New York Times

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Corporal punishment had been in a slow decline before the pandemic, but remains legal in 19 states, mostly in the South. The practice makes children more aggressive and disruptive, researchers say.
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A Missouri school district’s announcement that it is bringing back paddling drew a lot of attention and dismay this week. But corporal punishment — with an interruption, perhaps, for the coronavirus pandemic in some places — never went away in a large number of schools.
The practice remains legal in 19 states, mostly in the South, despite efforts to abolish it.
And although the numbers have declined in the past decade, about 70,000 public schoolchildren were subjected to corporal punishment in the 2017-18 school year, the most recent year for which federal data is available. Nearly 4,000 schools reported using corporal punishment during that school year.
“It’s just a really, really disturbing practice that some districts just continue to hang on to,” said Morgan Craven, national director for policy, advocacy and community engagement at the Intercultural Development Research Association, which supports a federal ban on corporal punishment in schools.
The practice, defined as paddling, spanking or other forms of physical discipline, jumped back into the news this week with the announcement that the school district in Cassville, a small city in southwestern Missouri, had reinstated paddling, a practice it abandoned in 2001, according to The Springfield News-Leader.
Corporal punishment will be used only with a parent’s permission and “only when all other alternative means of discipline have failed, and then only in reasonable form and upon the recommendation of the principal,” the district’s policy states. It was put in place in response to requests from parents, the superintendent, Merlyn Johnson, told The News-Leader.
“We’ve had people actually thank us for it,” he told the newspaper. “Surprisingly, those on social media would probably be appalled to hear us say these things, but the majority of people that I’ve run into have been supportive.”
Dr. Johnson did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.
The practice remains legal because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that is more than 40 years old. In 1977, the court ruled in Ingraham v. Wright that corporal punishment in public schools was constitutional, which meant that 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 assault, said Elizabeth T. Gershoff, a professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin.
“But when the teacher hits a smaller person who happens to be a child, these states and these schools are saying it’s OK,” she said. “It’s showing we give children less protection against violence than we give adults.”
Groups such as the American Psychological Association, which has opposed corporal punishment in schools since 1975, have long argued that paddling can cause injury and trauma and is not effective at improving behavior.
To the contrary, children become more aggressive and disruptive the more frequently they are subjected to physical punishment, according to the association.
Critics have also cited research showing that Black students and students with disabilities are more likely to be paddled in school than their peers.
Although they constitute only 15 percent of public school students in the United States, Black students make up 37 percent of the students subjected to school corporal punishment, according to the association. Children with disabilities make up 21 percent of all instances of corporal punishment, even though they are 17 percent of the student population.
Over the last five years, four states — Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee — have banned schools from using corporal punishment against children with disabilities, although Oklahoma banned the practice only for students with severe disabilities, Professor Gershoff said.
Ms. Craven said it was troubling that some schools continue to use corporal punishment even as children contend with more serious mental health challenges, in part because of the pandemic. The American Academy of Pediatrics declared child and adolescent mental health a “national emergency” in October.
“We know that they need support and we know that they need certain types of support,” such as counselors and teachers from diverse backgrounds who can recognize trauma, Ms. Craven said. “And so to use a method like corporal punishment that just retraumatizes kids is really disturbing and harmful.”
Professor Gershoff said that while she was dismayed that the Missouri district had reinstated paddling, she hoped it would lead to a broader debate about the practice.
“Most of the country thinks this was abolished a long time ago,” she said. “It’s reminding a lot of people that we need to be taking about this. Do we think it’s OK that the state is hitting children in our name? And, if not, we should work toward abolishing it.”
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