Corporal punishment alive and well in our schools

By Gary L. Shaffer

The hickory stick in the old ditty did more than beat time; it also beat children.

Corporal punishment, long a disciplinary alternative in America’s schools, is prohibited in 29 states.

While the practice first was banned by New Jersey in 1867 and, most recently, by Pennsylvania in 2005, North Carolina has yet to join these ranks.

The U.S. Department of Education defines corporal punishment as “paddling, spanking, or other forms of physical punishment imposed on a student.”

The department reported over 300,000 incidents nationally and 4,866 in  North Carolina in 2002-03.

Eight states exceeded North Carolina’s numbers, including Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas.

North Carolina’s School Code permits each district to establish procedures for administering corporal punishment and the N.C. School Board Association reports that more than half have done so.

Students, parents and guardians must be informed of these policies at the beginning of each school year.

Only defined personnel can administer corporal punishment, it cannot be done in front of other students, there must be a witness, parents must be informed, and a written explanation must be provided if requested.

The national associations of social workers, school nurses, school counselors and school psychologists are among 40 groups that advocate banning corporal punishment because it is associated with increased aggression and antisocial behavior, decreased child mental health, increased victimization of child abuse, and increased adult aggression.

Aren’t all of these social and behavioral issues our schools should not support?

As a social worker, I recommend that North Carolina House Bill 1462 be reintroduced and passed.

This bill, which died in committee this year, will establish a legislative study commission to examine corporal punishment in our schools.

I also recommend that schools extend to all public- and private-school students the protections against physical harm, psychological impairment and extreme punishment currently provided to disabled students.

All school personnel should receive continuous training in disciplinary alternatives, such as school-wide positive behavioral interventions, and school districts should be required to report incidents of corporal punishment yearly to the state Department of Public Instruction.

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Gary L. Shaffer  is an associate professor at the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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