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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Policy Limits Corporal Punishment To Last Resort

Policy limits corporal punishment to last resort

by Alonzo Weston Saturday, November 1, 2008

When Don Lentz was a school principal, he didn’t believe in swatting kids on the hands for misbehavior. He preferred the backside.

“If I slap a kid’s hand and send him back to class, that hand’s going to hurt and he can’t write,” Mr. Lentz said. “I used a paddle because I figured they could at least stand and listen and write.”
As a high school teacher for 20 years and middle school principal for 13 years, Mr. Lentz said he’s only paddled two students. That was only as a last resort. And it worked.

“The few children I paddled I felt it was an extreme measure,” he said. “They never came back to the office and they were never a discipline problem for me again so I think there’s some merit to it.”

The general rule was then like it is now. The St. Joseph School District policy on corporal punishment is that it only be used in extreme measures.

School board policy states that: “Corporal punishment as a measure of correction is permitted. It shall be used only when all other reasonable means have failed, and then only in reasonable form and with the authorization of the principal. If found necessary, it should be administered, preferably by the principal or principal’s designee, in the presence of the teacher. It should never be inflicted in the presence of the student’s class or without an adult witness. Principals should make every effort to inform parents when corporal punishment has been administered. A complete report of each case must be filed in the Principal’s Office.

Corporal punishment shall be administered preferably by swatting the buttocks with a paddle, or swatting the hands is also acceptable.”

But the policy also has a provision for self defense. A teacher may use reasonable force against a student for the protection of person and property.

Dr. Jaime Dial, assistant director of secondary education for the district, said she can’t remember the last time a student got a paddling for misbehavior in the St. Joseph school system.

“I think we have much more successful means in dealing with student misconduct than corporal punishment,” she said.

She listed some of those measures as: detention, in school and out of school suspensions and conferences with parents and school counselors.

A recent article cited a report from the Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union that said more than 200,000 children were spanked or paddled in U.S. schools during the past school year.

The highest percentage of students receiving corporal punishment was in Mississippi, with 7.5 percent of students. The highest number was 48,197 students in Texas.

According to the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, as cited in the study, corporal punishment in schools is legal in 21 U.S. states. It’s used more frequently in Missouri, Kentucky, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida.

“Every public school needs effective methods of discipline, but beating kids teaches violence, and it doesn’t stop bad behavior,” said Alice Farmer, author of a joint report from the article. “It fails to deter future misbehavior and at times even provokes it.”

Mr. Lentz said he believes in paddling to some extent, but not beating a child. That’s a different matter. It ultimately comes down to gaining respect, he said.

“You have to earn respect, you can’t command it from kids,” Mr. Lentz said.

Alonzo Weston can be reached at

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