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School CP - May 2001
New York Times, 3 May 2001
Lawsuits Touch Off Debate Over Paddling in SchoolsBy Jodi Wilgoren
ZWOLLE, La. - Laid out on the kitchen table, the snapshots of 10-year-old Megan Cahanin make a grim collage. They are not of her sweet face, but of her bare behind. There are 12 in all, taken, her mother says, day by day as the doughnut-shaped bruises on each cheek faded from a mottled purple to a dirty gray.
Megan's father, Robert Cahanin, recalls that when he first saw the bruises, hours after she was paddled by her school principal for elbowing a friend in the cafeteria, he collapsed on the floor, crying. Then he picked up the phone and called the police, the school board, the governor, his lawyer.
"It hurt me more than it hurt Megan," Mr. Cahanin said in a twist on the old parental prespanking saw. "You don't hit on my baby."
Stan Carpenter for The New York Times
Megan Cahanin and DeWayne Ebarb, whose families have sued to halt the paddling to which both pupils have been subjected at school. But far from everyone in their hometown, Zwolle, La., is on their side.
Megan, a fourth grader whose name appears more often on the honor roll than on a referral slip to the principal's office, is one of millions of public school students still subject to corporal punishment, and in March her family joined a small but apparently growing number who are suing to stop it. Megan's classmate DeWayne Ebarb, a hyperactive child who has been paddled regularly throughout his time at Zwolle Elementary - on 17 occasions in 8 weeks last fall alone - filed a second suit in late April, leaving this close-knit logging town of 2,000 pondering a practice as old as time.
Though it gets little attention, corporal punishment in schools remains legal in 23 states, and the United States Education Department's most recent data show that 365,000 children were paddled in the 1997-98 school year, most in a swath of Southern states that could be called the Belt Belt.
Yet recent debate over corporal punishment focuses largely on parents, with even many pro-spanking psychologists and pediatricians loath to support the principal's paddle. At the same time, though, some school districts and states say they must increasingly rely on physical discipline as the public pushes for a crackdown on student misbehavior.
And legislation pending in Congress as part of President Bush's education package could expand the practice by giving teachers and principals broad protection from liability for disciplinary actions.
"Almost every democracy in the world has bans on corporal punishment - we're going in the opposite direction," said Robert Fathman of Dublin, Ohio, president of the National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools. "You can't whack a prisoner, but you can whack a kindergarten child."
But in many communities like Zwolle (pronounced zeh-WAH-lee), a hamlet about 80 miles south of Shreveport best known for its annual tamale festival, parents and educators base their support for corporal punishment on two powerful sources: the Bible, and their own experience.
"That's the way that I grew up, that's the way it's always been in this society here," said Dan Leslie, superintendent in Sabine Parish, whose 12 schools include Zwolle Elementary. "You act ugly, you do something bad, you get a whipping."
Of the 27 states that have banned corporal punishment in school, the first was New Jersey, in 1867. Massachusetts came next, a century later, in 1971. When Mr. Fathman started his crusade in 1984, after his own daughter landed on the painful end of a paddle, five states had adopted bans. The 27th, West Virginia, acted in 1994, following states that also include New York and Connecticut.
The number of paddlings around the country, the Education Department figures show, dropped from 1.4 million in the 1979-80 school year to 613,000 in 1989-90 to 470,000 in 1993-94. In many states that allow corporal punishment, individual districts ban it, and in most schools that allow it parents can sign a form exempting their children. Black students are 2.5 times as likely to be struck as white students, a reflection of what researchers have long found to be more frequent and harsher discipline for members of minorities.
Court challenges have been largely unsuccessful, given a 1977 decision by the Supreme Court rejecting the notion that paddling is cruel and unusual punishment. A decade later, a federal appeals court ruled that a New Mexico girl held upside down and beaten had been denied due process, signaling that school officials could be held liable for severe beatings. But similar findings have been rare.
"The vast preponderance of the lawsuits challenging the use of corporal punishment in individual instances are unsuccessful," said Charles Vergon, a professor at Youngstown State University in Ohio who has studied the issue for 15 years.
Families tend to win such cases, Professor Vergon said, only when educators have "abused in a fairly significant way the public's trust."
The federal liability-protection legislation mimicks statutes in nine states where paddling is popular, including Louisiana. Scott McLellan, a White House spokesman, said the measure would head off frivolous lawsuits against educators and cited a survey showing that 31 percent of high school principals were involved in litigation last year, up from 9 percent a decade earlier.
Many education and medical groups oppose corporal punishment, saying it aggravates aggression and can cause depression.
But Robert Surgenor, a detective in Berea, Ohio, who wrote a recent book on corporal punishment, said "pain is probably the most effective form of discipline." Over 14 years, Detective Surgenor said, he investigated more than 150 cases of children who had assaulted their parents and found that fewer than 2 percent had been subjected to corporal punishment, a much smaller proportion than in the community as a whole.
Emily Williams, a kindergarten teacher in rural Mississippi, said that when she arrived from Williams College last year, she was horrified to hear teachers striking students in the hallways, the classroom and the cafeteria. But by March, frustrated by her own inability to control her class, she had picked up the paddle herself.
"It's so easy to say that's crazy or that's brutal or unnecessary or savage, but it's part of the whole system," Ms. Williams said. "A lot of things are different down here."
Robert Cahanin and his wife, Chenette, never complained when their older child, Matthew, got a few swats for leaving his seat or ignoring directions. But it was different when Mrs. Cahanin picked up Megan, who weighed 68 pounds, from school that day last December. Megan started to cry. Then she showed the bruises.
"She had to give me a reason why she hit Megan that hard," Mrs. Cahanin said of the principal, Judy Rials, who had administered the customary three licks. "If I had done that to Megan, I would be consulting an attorney to get me out of jail."
When she heard of the Cahanins' complaints, Joy Ebarb, DeWayne's mother, began to question the repeated paddling of her son, who takes Ritalin for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. DeWayne says the paddling does not hurt. But his mother says he has started to flinch when she reaches to hug him.
At school, Mrs. Rials keeps the Ten Commandments posted behind her desk, along with the aphorisms "When we tolerate everything . . . we stand for nothing," and "That which doesn't kill you will make you stronger." The teachers have 3-by-9- inch paddles, most made by students in wood shop; Mrs. Rials's, about six inches longer, was taken by the district attorney's office, which cleared her after an investigation into the paddling of Megan.
"It's not our favorite part of the day," Mrs. Rials said of paddling, which she has done hundreds of times in four years as principal. But it is better than suspension, she said, particularly for fourth graders, who must pass a state test to be promoted. "You can't educate a child if they're not in the classroom," she said. "Keeping children from the classroom could be devastating. It could change their lives."
Since her paddling, Megan Cahanin has started biting her nails and, most mornings, tries to avoid going to school, her parents say.
The Cahanin and Ebarb lawsuits, against the school district and Mrs. Rials, argue that corporal punishment violates the guarantee of equal protection, since it is illegal for those in authority to hit prisoners, nursing home residents or children in foster care.
The question has generated scores of messages on a community forum on the Internet, and gossip around town. Some accuse Megan's parents of beating her themselves, or blame them for showing the snapshots around. Others suggest that the whole school district, the entire town hierarchy, is corrupt. People quote religious maxims, and talk about when they were coming up.
"The Lord said, Spare the rod, spoil the child, and I think he knows a lot more than those bleeding-heart liberals," Pat Ebarb (no relation to DeWayne), the police chief in nearby Noble, said over coffee and cigarettes at Bill & Sissy's Cafe. "A child needs discipline. I don't believe they ought to be abused or mistreated, but if they need their behind dusted, let them get it."
Tears come whenever Mrs. Cahanin takes out those pictures of her daughter's bruised buttocks. With sorrow, she recalls a moment months before when Megan was playing school in her room, swinging a fly-swatter at her dolls' backsides, and wishes she had signed a paper that would have prohibited paddling her daughter.
Megan, sitting on her parents' back porch watching a downpour hit Toledo Bend Lake, said, "You try to forget about it, but sometimes you just can't."
"It's so painful seeing that lady every day," she said. "Whenever I see a paddle, I just move away."
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company
Follow-up: 15 April 2002: When a principal's paddle left Megan Cahanin black and blue, her parents hit back -- in court (illustrated)
Post & Courier, Charleston, S.Carolina, 6 May 2001
Faint-hearted public's major confusion outranks corporal punishmentBy Frank Wooten
He that spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. - Proverbs 13:24
The "rod" hath - make that has - taken many forms through the ages.
This ancient tradition of exerting adult authority over children has not been confined to fathers who forcibly "chasteneth" their sons.
An informal survey of Post and Courier newsroom workers recalled assorted creative "rods" from long-past school days - including a fan belt and a razor strap used by a Charleston principal to make his disciplinary points. In my own educational experience, two "rods" manifested by paddles, with holes strategically placed for aerodynamic and welt-raising efficiency, left lasting impressions upon me at St. Andrews Junior High School in 1967 (more on that below).
In these bewilderingly changing times, the "rod" is waning toward oblivion in U.S. schools - and homes. Many folks who doubt the effectiveness of "time out" don't rate this as progress.
Family psychologist John Rosemond, from his syndicated column that appears regularly in this newspaper:
"There's absolutely no evidence that being spanked delays, much less prevents, the development of self-control. There is, however, research to the effect that parents who employ occasional moderate spankings are likely to have better-behaved, more well-adjusted children than parents who give themselves no such permission."
George W. Bush, during last year's campaign, called for Congress to follow Texas' lead by protecting teachers from corporal-punishment lawsuits.
Yet Bush left that out of his first presidential education proposal. And a pro-paddling bill from Sen. Andre Bauer, R-Chapin, has sputtered in the S.C. General Assembly.
From the kinder, gentler opposition, SpankOut Day USA - last Monday - promoted the ascending consensus that paddling "begets violence." Irwin Hyman, author of "The Case Against Spanking," condemns it as "basically a punitive act."
Hey, Irwin: It's supposed to be punitive.
Such punitive intent was made clear to me at age 14. Indulging in a youthful anecdote:
As player-coach of my ninth-grade home-room basketball team (sort of like Boston Celtic great Bill Russell, only much shorter), I felt duty-bound to aggressively - make that annoyingly - question judgments of the referee, a phys-ed teacher whose name is omitted here to deny him full credit for his hard-hitting retribution.
Late in our victory (we finished the "season" at 1-0), after another biting, witty gibe at the ref's expense inspired approving laughter from the crowd, he pointed at me and shouted: "My office! After class!"
The afterglow of triumph was severely dimmed, the die cast. The daunting "three licks or three days" ultimatum loomed.
Following the school-boy code of the era, I opted for three licks. The physical pain and loss of dignity were offset by two factors: No parental notification was required, as it would have been for "three days" of suspension. And the elevation to instant martyrdom prompted widespread admiration from classmates - male and female.
That lofty status was intensified a scant few weeks later when an assistant principal administered three more licks for repeated rebelliousness in study hall - nearly knocking the breath out of me in the process.
Having my posterior paddled didn't transform me into an overall well-behaved kid.
It did, however, convince me to refrain from again antagonizing that PE teacher and assistant principal.
Harsh as it sounds in these sissified times, some kids - but not mine! - need spanking. The attention of many hard-headed, age 12-14 males can be commanded only by brute power.
Think of Ronald Reagan's "peace through strength."
That doesn't mean America can or will restore corporal punishment in public schools. The mindless modern commitment to bestowing "self-esteem" on children - often by deluding them with false praise - precludes paddling.
And parents seem increasingly inclined to side with their kids against teachers and administrators. It's risky enough now for an educator to scold, much less spank, an unruly child.
So if a 14-year-old boy is intolerably obnoxious while disputing your basketball ruling, forget about paddling him.
Call a technical foul instead.
Frank Wooten is associate editor of The Post and Courier.
The State, Columbia, S.Carolina, 7 May 2001
Parents speak against school paddling
... In Texas alone, there were more than 80,000 paddlings; in Mississippi and Arkansas, the statistics show about one paddling for every 10 students.
South Carolina permits school districts to use corporal punishment, if it is deemed just and proper.
Most of the states 86 school districts allow corporal punishment in some form to be used by administrators, but require parental approval, according to the S.C. School Boards Association.
Richland 1 is the only Columbia-area school system to prohibit its use. Lexington 2 prohibits corporal punishment at its middle and high schools.
The punishment is not frequent, district officials say.
Most (schools) look at it as a last measure, said Mary Beth Smith, spokeswoman in Lexington 1. Some parents request that their children are paddled because its their form of punishment (at home).
Sen. Andre Bauer, R-Lexington, sponsored a bill in February to protect districts that allow corporal punishment from civil and criminal liability. During the hearing process, lawmakers discovered such protections exist under current law, except in cases of gross negligence.
New York Times, 7 May 2001
Breaking the Hickory Stick
Every school day, children in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and 20 other states across the southwestern and southeastern United States stand a chance of being physically assaulted, often with a wooden paddle, at school and with the full sanction of the law. Not many are actually struck in the course of an ordinary day, and the number of children disciplined this way has dropped from 1.4 million in the 1979-80 school year to 365,000 in 1996-97. But it is primitive and unconscionable for educators anywhere to cling to the right to beat a child in the name of learning. The practice is contrary to this nation's respect for individual rights and its legal traditions against punishments that are arbitrary and not administered under strict rules and limits. Corporal punishment in schools has been outlawed by most democratic nations. Yet Congress is considering a Teacher Liability Protection Act, supported by President Bush, that is likely to increase the number of paddlings in states and school districts where corporal punishment is still legal.
The strongest support for the practice of hitting children, in school or at home, comes almost solely from the Bible verses about sparing the rod. Not coincidentally, the practice of corporal punishment in schools is most prevalent where a fundamentalist belief in the Bible is strongest. But the Bible also advocates the beating of prisoners, a practice that is illegal in every state.
Educators, psychologists, doctors, civil-rights lawyers and parents have arrayed a persuasive body of evidence proving what, in fact, is plain common sense. Corporal punishment in school teaches a child to distrust authority, not to respect it, and creates an environment inimical to the self-confidence needed for learning. Paddling perpetuates a cycle of violence, teaching children that violence is an appropriate tool for managing the behavior of others. There are also discrimination problems with the practice. Disadvantaged and minority children face corporal punishment at a higher rate than others.
Legal challenges to paddling in schools have not been very successful, so far. In 1977, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4, in Ingraham v. Wright, that the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, applies to convicted criminals but not to students. Justice Byron White, writing in dissent, pointed out that by the majority's logic, a prisoner has more rights than a student. "If a prisoner is beaten mercilessly for a breach of discipline," Justice White argues, "he is entitled to the protection of the Eighth Amendment, while a schoolchild who commits the same breach of discipline and is similarly beaten is simply not covered." The failure of constitutional challenges to the practice of hitting students has not deterred enlightened legislators and educators, however. Twenty-seven states have made corporal punishment in schools illegal, and even in states where it is legal, many school districts, especially urban ones, have enacted policies prohibiting it.
Behind the Supreme Court's reasoning lay also the premise that "the openness of the public school and its supervision by the community afford significant safeguards against the kinds of abuses from which the Eighth Amendment protects convicted criminals." One of those safeguards - though rarely used - is the right to sue a teacher or administrator who inflicts untoward corporal punishment in a district where it is legal. President Bush worries a great deal about such suits, and he promised, during his campaign, to support a Teacher Protection Act, to safeguard teachers against "frivolous" or "nuisance" suits arising, in part, from legal corporal punishment. In February, Senator Mitch McConnell introduced the Teacher Liability Protection Act.
All the major educational associations, including the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, have argued that this act is unnecessary, since teachers are already protected by insurance through their school districts and professional groups. They point out, moreover, that in states where such acts have been passed - like Texas, where corporal punishment is legal and more than 80,000 students are paddled annually according to the most recent statistics - they effectually license a higher rate of corporal punishment.
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company
National Review, New York, 8 May 2001
Six of the Best
Corporal punishment and its criticsBy John Derbyshire
My attention was caught by last Thursday's story in the New York Times about corporal punishment, known in these United States by the cheerful little euphemism: "paddling." The story concerned 10-year-old Megan Cahanin, who was whacked on the bottom by her school principal (a female) down in Zwolle, La. The Times reports that Megan's father, obviously one of those modern men who never stray far from the Kleenex dispenser, and whose idea of a relaxing weekend is to take off into the woods to beat on drums and hug fauns with Robert Bly, "collapsed on the floor, crying" when he saw the resulting bruises. He soon recovered sufficiently to get himself lawyered up, though, and we can now expect a minor national debate on the pros and cons of paddling or, as good liberals prefer to say, "child-beating." It turns out that 23 states still permit paddling in schools, though most school districts in those states let parents sign a form exempting their own children. The Cahanins could have done this, but didn't bother. (Memo to Mr. and Mrs. Cahanin. TRY PAYING ATTENTION TO YOUR CHILDREN'S EDUCATION.)
This is a no-brainer for liberals. They are, of course, against corporal punishment in schools. Children, they know from reading Jean-Jacques Rousseau, are morally superior to adults. Authority is oppressive, a manifestation of the corrupt power relations that prevail in late-capitalist society. Violence is wicked, unless used as against the unfortunate Serbs to enforce "diversity". Way back in the 1930s, when the young Malcolm Muggeridge went to work at the Manchester Guardian, then as now the leading liberal newspaper in Britain, one of his first assignments was to write an editorial piece on this topic. Unsure how to approach it, he went to a colleague who was typing away at a nearby desk. "What's the paper's line on corporal punishment?" asked Muggeridge. Replied the colleague, without looking up or breaking rhythm on the typewriter: "Same as capital." Liberals have it so easy. They always know what to think. It comes in neat little formulas that you can pick up in half an hour. And if you forget what you're supposed to think, pretty much any newspaper or TV station will remind you. For us conservatives, life is more complicated. Do we want our kids to be whacked? All right: Do we want them being whacked by members of the NEA?
Now, I know what you're thinking. Derb Brit beating bottoms What a surprise that this particular topic should have engaged the interest of this particular columnist NOT! The Brits are well known to have issues with smacking and thwacking: and a conservative Brit well, enough said.
No use trying to brush this aside. It is a matter of common observation that national stereotypes, like other stereotypes, almost always have a firm foundation in fact. To a noticeable and significant degree in every case, Germans do tend to be obsessed with order, Russians do drink a lot, the Chinese are addicted to gambling and Italians do talk with their hands. And, yes, we Brits do, or until recently did, have a thing about flagellation. Le vice Anglais, the French call it, and they know us as well as anyone. (The French vice, in case you're wondering, is that having invented a device to wash one tiny part of their anatomy, they see no need to bother washing the rest.) The infant Vladimir Nabokov, forming his earliest ideas about the world from what he heard and read in pre-revolutionary Russia, wrote that his first distinct mental image of the British as a nation was of a fierce red-haired schoolmaster thrashing a small boy. Hard-heartedness towards children has long been thought to characterize those brumous isles of my birth. Remember the passage in Gone with the Wind where the Butlers take their new baby on a trip to London, and are scandalized when the English nanny they have hired lets the child cry in the night without attempting any intervention? "Children cry," huffs the nanny as Clark Gable hands her the pink slip, "that's what they do," or words to that effect. Exactly the advice my mother gave when we had our first child. "If she's dry, fed, and not running a temperature, let her cry."
The great English boys' boarding schools "public schools" are of course at the heart of Britain's collective flagellation neurosis. The names of the schoolmasters in classic British fiction give the game away: Wackford Squeers in Nicholas Nickelby, Thwackum in Tom Jones you can practically hear the birch rod hitting the glutes. Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy's book The Public School Phenomenon, now apparently out of print on both sides of the pond, is very good on the history here, with some wonderful anecdotes. (I have looted its pages shamelessly for the following illustrations.) The offenses boys were flogged for were not always what you might expect. In the 1660s, smoking was made compulsory at Eton, as it was believed to be a prophylactic against the plague. A certain Tom Rogers remarked about this time that "he was never so much whipped in his life as he was one morning for not smoking." A hundred years later, Sam Johnson observed that: "There is now less flogging in our great schools than formerly, but then less is learned there; so that what the boys get at one end, they lose at the other."
Fifty years further on, Dr. John Keate, headmaster at Eton 1809-34, was a notorious flogger. On one memorable occasion in 1810, he flogged the entire lower fifth form about 100 boys.
Yet, as Gathorne-Hardy notes, as a method of discipline, all this flogging was virtually useless. "The noise from Keate's classes was continuous and deafening, so that passers-by would stop and listen in wonder." (To be sure, it did not help that Keate's classes were often 200 strong.)
The more you look at the flogging culture of these schools, the more the whole thing looks like one of those inexplicable, cruel and pointless cultural aberrations that nations fall into, sometimes for centuries at a time like foot-binding in China. And though I am normally suspicious of cheap psychological explanations for human behavior, it seems clear that all that flogging did have some negative consequences on individual victims. When Evelyn Waugh went to Ethiopia in 1936, his first call was on the British Ambassador. Waugh recorded the event in his diary as follows:
Well, I didn't go to one of those schools myself. My primary school had some fine and dedicated teachers, but it was in a slum, and the kids were a very rough crowd. Whacking on the hand with a ruler was common. Done skillfully, it hurt like a bitch. For more serious defaulters, the headmaster kept a stout cane, also for use on the hand. There was no thwacking on the bottom in either of my schools. (They were both day schools, and the folklore on this subject was that the target of chastisement was related to the type of sexual misconduct boys were thought most likely to indulge in: at day schools, masturbation, ergo the hand; at boarding schools, buggery, ergo the bottom. I have no idea whether this theory has any foundation in the behavioral sciences.) My secondary school, for all that it aped the old-established boarding schools in a lot of ways we had a "house" system, and played rugger instead of soccer had corporal punishment only in theory. I don't recall any boy being beaten in all my seven years at the place, though it's possible I missed something. The flogging culture had pretty much died out from British life by that time, anyway. [Utter nonsense -- C.F.]
So whatever you might think, I come to this issue with a mind unclouded by prejudice and a heart uncontaminated by any trauma more severe than a stinging palm at age ten. If you come to dine at my house while the wife and kids are away, I shall not ask you to beat me, I promise (though if you feel like doing the dishes, I won't object). From this standpoint of lofty objectivity, I declare that I don't see much wrong with a little corporal punishment. I have smacked my own kids, when they have been exceptionally naughty a sharp smack on the back of the hand. I haven't done it often once or twice a year, I think and I have never hit them anywhere other than on the hand. It's an ultimate deterrent. In the matter of parental discipline, I'm a parents-rights extremist. All but the very worst parents are better for kids than institutional care. I would smack my kids in public if I thought it necessary, though it never has been. If any ACLU-subscribing busybody raised a fuss, I'd tell them to mind their own damn business, and if hauled off to court, I'd willingly beggar myself to defend my rights as a parent.
And in schools? In spite of my support for parental chastisement, and my instinctive feeling that anything liberals hate as much as they hate corporal punishment must have something to be said in its favor, I can't say I'm enthusiastic about teachers hitting kids. For one thing, I'm just not enthusiastic about teachers. Where I live, public-school teachers make $70,000 a year, work 4-hour days, take twelve weeks' vacation a year, retire at 55 on three-quarters pay and have a union armed with thermonuclear weapons. Teachers drive Volvos and vote Democrat. No, I'm not crazy about teachers as a species, though of course I know there are many honest and conscientious ones, possibly even a few Republicans. I don't want teachers hitting my kids. In my state, as it happens, they can't. If they could, I'd sign the exemption form.
However, I do like the idea of people setting standards for these things according to the custom of their own localities. One of the wonderful things about the U.S.A. is the regional variation; not just in trivial things like landscape and flora, but in manners and morals, too. Up here in Pyongyang-on-the-Hudson, our behavior is strictly circumscribed by regular directives from PC Central. Down in Lousiana, on the other hand, they drive those pickup trucks with a gun rack behind the seat, chew tobacco, breed coon dogs and hang signs saying SPARE THE ROD, SPOIL THE CHILD in the classrooms. Good luck to them. If the people of Zwolle want teachers to paddle their kids, I say, leave them alone. Parents can exempt their own kids almost everywhere the practice is permitted; or, if they feel strongly enough about it, they can always move to another state. The Tenth Amendment was still in the Bill of Rights, last time I looked, and should be honored.
New York Times, 11 May 2001
Paddling Foes Get Change in Amendment on LiabilityBy Jodi Wilgoren
After intense lobbying by opponents of paddling in schools, the Senate on Wednesday changed the wording of legislation protecting teachers from lawsuits to say explicitly that it was not intended to affect policies regarding corporal punishment.
The legislation, an amendment to President Bush's education package, passed the Senate 98 to 1. The Senate is expected to vote next week on the package, reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Corporal punishment in schools is legal in 23 states, and the Department of Education estimated that 365,000 students were paddled in the 1997-98 school year, the most recent for which data is available.
Spanking opponents, helped by the lobbyists for trial lawyers, have flooded the Senate in recent days with e-mail messages complaining that the teacher protection amendment would block parents from suing if their children were injured by corporal punishment.
President Bush and Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who sponsored the amendment, said it had nothing to do with corporal punishment but was aimed at reducing frivolous lawsuits against educators. They cited a 1999 survey of school principals showing that 25 percent were involved in lawsuits, up from 9 percent a decade earlier.
"Our teachers face a hard enough task teaching reading, writing and arithmetic without having to worry about baseless lawsuits," Mr. McConnell said in a statement.
At the urging of Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, Mr. McConnell added a line to his amendment saying, "Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect any state or local law (including a rule or regulation) or policy pertaining to the use of corporal punishment." The legislation protects educators from lawsuits related to their work unless harm results from "gross negligence" or "reckless misconduct."
Nadine Block of the Center for Effective Discipline, an anticorporal punishment group in Columbus, Ohio, praised the Senate's action, saying it sent "paddles one step closer to their rightful place in the Smithsonian Horror Hall of Fame."
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, WI, 14 May 2001
Paddling principal upset at state act
Agency labeled him a child abuser without ever interviewing himBy Gretchen Schuldt
of the Journal Sentinel staff
Troy Bond's trip to the rolls of Wisconsin's officially designated child abusers began with a swat the private school principal delivered to a fourth-grade girl in 1998.
Private school principal Troy Bond is suing over being labeled as an abuser by the state Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare.
Corporal punishment at Bond's small religious school, although not common, is part of the disciplinary scheme and is spelled out in the school's handbook. But that paddling led state child welfare workers to decide - without ever interviewing him - that Bond was a child abuser. It also prompted a broader state probe that eventually included background checks on members listed in the Greendale Baptist Church directory.
Bond, 31, said he didn't realize he had been "substantiated" as a child abuser by the state Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare until about two years after the fact, when he learned of it during depositions in a federal court lawsuit.
"I just couldn't believe this could be happening without ever coming to me about what really took place," Bond said in a recent interview. "It was all based on one or two people's testimony."
The state concedes Bond was not notified before or after he was labeled a child abuser. The individual child welfare workers violated state rules, the state said, when they upheld the abuse accusation against Bond. That finding was a "random and unauthorized act," Assistant Attorney General John Glinski said in a court document.
Bond's attorney, Michael Dean, said the situation reflected "an institutional arrogance that develops when they do what they want, wherever they want. They really do, basically, whatever they want."
Bond has not appealed the bureau's finding and should not have to, Dean said. "It strikes me as outrageous for me to say 'since we broke every rule in the book, the burden is on you to clear your name,' " he said.
Tiny school, strict discipline
Greendale Baptist Academy, with an enrollment of 26 elementary students, features a "Biblically based" curriculum that emphasizes standard academics, God, respect and self-discipline, according to Bond and the school's handbook.
Policy calls for one swat with a wooden paddle if a child gets four marks in a week for misbehavior such as lying or disobedience, Bond said.
When Bond delivered the fateful punishment to the fourth-grader in fall 1998, her great-grandmother, the girl's guardian, witnessed it, according to court documents.
The girl returned to school the next day, but then withdrew. Someone (not the girl's great-grandmother) filed a complaint about the paddling with the state Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, which waited almost two months, until Nov. 3, 1998, to open a file on the case, according to court records.
It took much less time for child welfare workers to decide Bond was an abuser, according to records.
Child welfare investigator John Wichman talked to the girl and her great-grandmother, but not Bond or the teacher who also witnessed the incident, before substantiating the abuse Nov. 12, according to court documents. A supervisor signed off on the finding in January.
In a deposition, Wichman testified he never tried to contact Bond because, "You know, we didn't know what the response is going to be, so we left it as is."
The girl eventually told Wichman about another student, a boy, whom she said Bond also paddled.
That led investigators to visit Greendale Baptist school on Dec. 16, 1998, to interview the boy. That's when Wichman finally met Bond. Later, child welfare workers decided to expand their investigation of Bond and the school.
They returned to the school on another day to interview more children, but school officials objected to aspects of the investigation and in 1999 the school sued, challenging the right of the child welfare workers to interview pupils at the school about possible abuse without the knowledge or consent of their parents.
During the probe, the bureau obtained a church directory and ran computer checks to determine whether families listed had prior contacts with the child welfare office, according to court documents.
Bond said not all the people listed in the directory had children in the school, and not all pupils' families belong to the church.
"If they do this to an institution like this, I just wonder what they do to the individual parents," Bond said.
Bond personally joined the lawsuit as a plaintiff early this year, claiming his rights to due process were violated.
Both parts of the suit still are pending.
The state argues that child welfare workers' right to interview children without parental knowledge or consent is well-established. There were more than 6,000 child abuse investigations in Milwaukee County in 1999 and 2000, and in more than 90% of the cases, social workers making initial assessments interviewed the children without parental notification, Glinski said in court documents.
While errors may have been made in Bond's case, Glinski said, they do not rise to the level of constitutional violations.
"I'm confident the statute will be upheld and our people will be found not to have violated anyone's constitutional rights," Glinski said in an interview.
As a state-listed child abuser, Bond cannot be a foster parent or run a day care center without proving to the state Department of Health and Family Services by "clear and convincing evidence" that he has been rehabilitated, Dean said in a court filing.
Bond said his job status at the private Greendale school is not affected, but, "I don't like to be labeled that. It's a complete falsehood."
Joanne Barndt, a professor of the School of Social Welfare at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said an abuse substantiation is at least supposed to notify the person involved in behavior that needs changing. That purpose is defeated if the subject never hears of the finding, she said.
The school's lawsuit names as defendants three child welfare workers - Wichman, Carla Heck and a supervisor, Christine Hansen. The state could be held liable for any potential wrongdoing because the three are being sued in their official capacities.
Only Wichman and Hansen are alleged to be involved in listing Bond as a child abuser. Wichman, who now works for the state Public Defender's Office, declined to comment. Hansen did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Denise Revels Robinson, director of the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, also declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
Dean said he is doing much of the legal work on the case for Bond and the school without pay, although he could recover his costs if the school wins. The Waukesha-based First Freedoms Foundation, which is dedicated to protecting families and individuals from unwarranted government intrusion, is also helping, Dean said.
"There's a perception there's a little cultic enclave that beats up on children, which is just absurd," he said.
Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh, PA, 21 May 2001
Spare the rod
Washington shouldn't encourage corporal punishment
Sorting out the nation's educational problems is complicated by the contradictory and passionately held positions put forward by experts -- whole language vs. phonics vs. some combination; heterogeneous groupings vs. tracking; mainstreaming vs. pull-out classes for special needs students; problem solving vs. rote drills; back to basics vs. anything else.
And the experts all have studies (of varying quality) to demonstrate the rectitude of their views.
But you almost never hear experts arguing -- nor see solid research proving -- that schools would be much better if only the students were beaten more regularly. Yet somehow, President Bush considered this issue significant enough to include in his educational package.
He didn't exactly advocate whacking kids, but his administration suggested that it's important to protect teachers and administrators from lawsuits by parents whose children have been whacked.
Fortunately, both the House and the Senate now have exempted corporal punishment from the "teacher protection" bill. But the fact that the administration raised the issue at all is troubling.
The number of schoolchildren who are paddled has been declining, although nearly 400,000 students are still physically disciplined in the course of a year. Twenty-seven states ban the practice altogether. In most other states, many districts either prohibit corporal punishment or practice it sparingly.
But there is a swath of states, primarily in the South, where corporal punishment is widely practiced. Texas leads the pack, with more than 80,000 paddlings, followed by Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee. (Pennsylvania allows corporal punishment, but most districts have banned the discipline, so there are fewer than 100 paddlings a year in the state.)
There is no indication that children are better behaved or learn more in those states. And in fact, if the punishment were so effective, officials wouldn't need to resort to it so frequently and repeatedly.
Not surprisingly, certain students are more likely to be the target of the teacher's paddle. That list includes blacks, special-needs students and boys.
And no matter how many people have fond recollections of being publicly humiliated and physically assaulted back in the good old days, the fact is that corporal punishment increases aggression and depression and has no place in school. That's why it is opposed by the two main teachers unions, the national PTA, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association and the National Child Abuse Coalition, among other organizations.
The best idea is to find a way to discipline that does not violate the trust between teacher and student, that does not reinforce the notion that might makes right; that does not undermine a child's confidence or provoke aggression. Schools all over the country and in most democratic nations in the world have discovered alternatives without sinking into chaos or academic distress.
Chattanooga Times Free Press, TN, 22 May 2001
Bush wrong on corporal punishment
There are many things about George W. Bush's legislative agenda worth debating. There certainly are sound reasons to question, for instance, the president's rationale for a tax cut, his energy policies and his stance on the environment. There should be additional debate about the validity of much of the rest of Mr. Bush's blueprint for America's future as well.
But some of the proposals from the president are wrongheaded beyond belief -- and are so nonsensical that they deserve no consideration at all. President Bush's tacit approval of corporal punishment in schools falls into that category. Though the president did not openly advocate taking a paddle to kids, he did include a provision in his education bill to protect principals, other administrators and teachers from lawsuits brought by parents whose children have been paddled. Surely, that indicates his administration's approval of the practice.
Fortunately, common sense prevailed and House and Senate members -- a majority from Mr. Bush's own party -- stripped corporal punishment from what is being called the "teacher protection" bill. Thank goodness the legislators understand what constitutes physical abuse even if the president does not.
Still, there's no shortage of schools where boys and girls can be clouted by adults wielding what amounts to a weapon. Though 27 states have banned the practice, and others have strict controls on its use, corporal punishment remains the disciplinary tactic of choice in many locales, particularly in the South. Texas, Mr. Bush's home state, is the leading practitioner, with more than 80,000 reported paddlings in the last year for which figures are available.
Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee round out the top five. Why school officials and parents here and elsewhere in the region allow the practice of paddling to continue is beyond the ken of most Americans and citizens of other nations where the practice is not allowed. Supporters can offer no evidence corporal punishment works; if it did, wouldn't the number of victims dwindle each year?
Just about every reputable study of discipline in schools indicates corporal punishment teaches violence and aggression rather than self-discipline. Thus, educators and researchers across the political spectrum pretty much agree that corporal punishment is more likely to erode discipline rather than enforce it. Mr. Bush, it seems, is pretty much alone in his quixotic desire to protect and, by implication, support those who prefer the paddle to the real work of teaching the nation's children.
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