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School CP - April 1977

Corpun file 23816 at

Evening News, Newburgh, NY, 20 April 1977, p.16

Corporal Punishment in Schools Up to Local Boards

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Constitution does not stand in the way of public school teachers and administrators who feel there's no educational value in sparing the rod, the Supreme Court says.

The Court decided by a slim majority Tuesday that state and local laws and practices should determine whether corporal punishment is used in schools.

Constitutional safeguards against cruel and unusual punishment apply only to convicted criminals and not to students -- even when the punishment becomes excessive, the court decided in a 5-4 vote.

Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., writing for the majority, said corporal punishment in education is "rooted in history and reaffirmed in the laws of many states."

Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and Justices William H. Rehnquist, Potter Stewart and Harry A. Blackmun agreed.

Led by Justice Byron R. White, dissenters called Powell's reasoning "extreme" and said the Constitution should offer as much protection to students as it gives criminals.

The court's decision affirmed a ruling of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of two Miami schoolboys who received severe beatings from school officials in 1970.

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Attorneys for the boys, joined by some national education groups, had hoped the court would use the case to lay down strict guidelines for teachers to follow when choosing to use corporal punishment as a disciplinary tool.

Instead, the court said spankings and other disciplinary measures taken against wayward students do not concern the Constitution but may be a matter for state civil and criminal courts.

Bruce Rogow, a Miami legal aid lawyer who represented the two boys, said he was disappointed in the decision, but noted that state remedies are available for students who think they have been treated unjustly.

"In no way does the ruling declare open season on children," he said.

The National Education Association and the Parent Teachers Association both voiced concern over the decision, but many school administrators have argued for teacher discretion in disciplining classes.

Of the 23 states which have passed laws on corporal punishment, only New Jersey and Massachusetts have banned it. Most other states have laws or common law practices condoning moderate spankings.

Corpun file 23817 at

Evening News, Newburgh, NY, 20 April 1977, p.16

Most NY Schools Ban Punishment

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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- About three-quarters of New York's 3.5 million public school students are protected from any corporal punishment by their local school boards, an official of the state's largest teachers' union estimates.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the federal constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment does not protect public school students from spankings, no matter how harsh. The ruling came in a case brought by two young men who were severely paddled six years ago as 14-year olds in a Miami, Fla., Junior high school.

New York State's law allows each of the state's 700-plus school districts to make its own decision about spanking and other physical punishment of students.

But if a district does authorize the physical striking of children, the punishment must be witnessed by another adult, explained Ned Hopkins, assistant to the president of the New York State United Teachers union, and the teacher must be ready if a parent or guardian requests an explanation.

Since an adult witness must always be present, state law effectively rules out the sort of spontaneous cuffs and slaps a teacher might be tempted to use in a moment of tension or temper, even in schools where striking a student is permitted.

Hopkins said he had no exact count, but estimated that three-quarters of the state's public school children go to schools where corporal punishment is banned.

The Supreme Court ruling noted that 21 states authorize corporal punishment in one form or another. The New York Civil Liberties Union is urging the state legislature to remove the current local option and ban all corporal punishment in the state.

Corpun file 23815 at

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pennsylvania, 21 April 1977, p.5


The Paddle Battle

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BY A NARROW 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court has upheld the right of public school teachers and principals to administer corporal punishment, in the form of paddling, for disciplinary purposes. But that's not likely to be the end of it -- especially in Pittsburgh.

The court's decision is correct: paddling is a necessary action in some cases and must be preserved as a "reserve" right of the nation's beleaguered public educators for situations in which all other disciplinary measures have failed. By comparison with the educational systems of most European and Asian countries, the relatively informal American schools can hardly be described as rigid or abusive in their approach to student discipline.

Indeed, the discipline problem in U.S. schools has increased enormously daring the past 20 years partially as a result of the social and racial disturbances afflicting the country at large.

As the court noted, there is nothing inherently "cruel and unusual" about a properly administered spanking. There are bound to be certain extreme cases in which a teacher or principal might paddle too enthusiastically, but for the most part, paddlings in schools are doled out sparingly and with restraint, usually in the presence of witnesses and for just cause. The caveat is simply that paddling must be performed in a controlled and responsible manner.

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It would be wrong to believe that paddling in general, and the Supreme Court ruling in particular, will solve any basic educational problems. Physical punishment at best controls the symptom and not the causes of bad behavior. It is more an instrument of socialization than education, and it exists as an option, not a mandate, in the educator's arsenal.

For that matter, the whole notion of paddling derives its potency more from its psychologically preventive quality than from its actual application.

The Pittsburgh school district -- one of the few in Pennsylvania too prohibit paddling -- would do well to restore that unpopular institution when it reconsiders the issue in June. The object is not to strike fear into the hearts of young students, and certainly not to cause them any real or lasting harm, but merely to provide the schools with a last resort in difficult situations.

Abuses involving paddling may still, of course, be litigated through the regular civil mechanism, since parents and students retain the right to sue and to bring criminal charges in state courts if corporal punishment is meted out too severely or without cause. Similarly, in Pittsburgh, there is a grievance procedure built into the Student Bill of Rights and Responsibilities in the event students feel they have been unfairly punished.

Pittsburgh school officials say they doubt the Supreme Court ruling will have much impact on them, not only because corporal punishment has been prohibited here since 1973, but also because the court decision pertained primarily to the right of teachers, not principals, to paddle. "All the questions here have regarded the restoration of corporal punishment not for use by the teachers, but by the administration of the school -- the principal or his designee," said one school spokesman.

Paddling is certainly no remedy for the overall school discipline problem, but its mere presence as a legal alternative may give teachers and administrators some needed leverage in what is rapidly becoming the major flaw of public education: an inability to provide the minimum discipline without which a quality education is impossible.

Corpun file 14125 and 9290 at

Clearwater Sun, Florida, 21 April 1977

Ruling Carries Clout To Kids

By Nancy Kalwary
Sun Staff Writer

drawing of fantasy paddle with nails in it

Like fishermen who love to tell the story of their big catch to anyone within earshot, school children build legends around the principal's paddle.

They talk about the nail-studded slab and the holes the principal drilled to make the paddle swing faster, and they tell the tale of the kid who got whacked so hard he fell out of the window and was never seen again.

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In recent years, paddling has come under scrutiny by parents who have claimed that a length of wood applied to the seat of the pants can constitute "cruel and unusual punishment."

One such case involved severe paddlings given to pupils in a Dade County junior high school. One student received more than 50 swats with a paddle for making an obscene phone call.

Monday, acting on that case, the U.S. Supreme Court, by a one-vote margin, ruled that nothing in the Constitution bars public school teachers from paddling unruly students.

Students at Clearwater's South Ward Elementary School know little about the Supreme Court and the Constitution, but they can tell you all about paddles.

Only five children have been paddled at the school this year, according to Principal Lewis Williams, but bad news travels fast.

First grader Scott McGrover got to see the paddle for himself.

"Mr. Williams told me, 'This is going to hurt me more than it is you,'" Scott said.

Then, according to a wide-eyed Scott, "Mr. Williams took the paddle out from behind the flowers. Boy, was it big! Then I had to bend over."

Scott McGroverScott stopped his description of the whack with that, but it took him only the bat of an eyelash to remember just how big the paddle was.

"It's this big," Scott said, extending his arms skyward. "But there aren't any nails on it -- yet."

Scott earned his paddling by fighting with a schoolmate.

"He called me a name so I hit him," he said.

What name? Scott wouldn't say.

"I don't think I ever want to get paddled again. Ever. I'm going to be good," he said.

Tony Ongarr, a third grader, admitted that the day he got three paddlings wasn't one of his better days.

"I've only had three paddlings and they were all in one day," Tony said. "Three is enough. I don't think I'll do those things again."

"Those things" were talking back to a teacher and two scuffles with other students.

Ben Sutton, a fifth grader, hasn't ended up on the wrong end of a paddle so far.

"I've heard kids talking about it, and they say they don't like it, so I don't want to get paddled either," said Ben.

"Parents feel that the worst thing to happen to a child in the elementary grades is to have the student suspended," Williams said.

Throughout the check mark process, parents are called for conferences with school personnel to help parents understand how children can be helped to overcome discipline problems.

Under the current discipline system at South Ward, several warnings to students and conferences precede a paddling.

"Usually the 'PTPNT' lecture works and I never have to warn a student again," Williams said. PTPNT is his code for "Promise To Paddle Next Time."

If a paddling does become necessary, county principals must tell students why they are being paddled and must have a witness to the punishment.

Williams also calls parents to explain why he is paddling their child and ask if parents have an objection.

"Most parents will say, 'Give him a good one and spare me the trouble,'" Williams said.

Amy Horne, Ben Sutton, Tony Ongarr


The Economist, London, 30 April 1977

American Survey: Education

Beat him when he sneezes

When any child in an elementary or secondary school calls his teacher names, steals the laboratory mice or is caught reading Playboy behind his desk, it is not unreasonable to spank him. So says the Supreme Court, in a decision which allows teachers to impose corporal punishment even to the point of "excess" or "medical damage" to impress good behaviour on their pupils. The court was considering a case from Dade County, Florida, where two boys, James Ingraham and Roosevelt Andrews, were beaten so severely with flat wooden paddles that they needed medical attention. A federal appeals court thought this a violation of the 8th amendment to the constitution, which outlaws cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court has disagreed, adding for good measure that children do not need the protection of the 8th amendment; it is meant for criminals in detention, not for pupils in the classroom.

cartoonThe tradition of corporal punishment for children is an honorable one, linking the first president ("I cannot tell a lie; I did it with my little hatchet") to the latest, who was beaten with a peach-switch for spending too much time in his treehouse. The licence given to parents to spank their young was naturally extended to teachers, as surrogate parents instilling the virtues of honesty and duty. Despite the enormous changes in education since colonial times and a persistent feeling that school beatings might be wrong -- first publicly expressed by Horace Mann as early as the 1830s -- public opinion is still on beating's side. Only two states, Massachusetts and New Jersey, forbid it altogether under law. A Gallup poll taken last September showed, for the seventh time in eight years, that parents see lack of discipline as the greatest problem in schools.

"Discipline", however, takes many forms. Ten blows with a paddle, which may cow a seven-year-old in a tranquil country school, are a ludicrous defence for a teacher faced with a gun-toting teenager in a ghetto classroom. Last year over 204,000 aggravated attacks were carried out on teachers or classmates by pupils either in school or returning to school on purpose to commit them. Cases where spanking is appropriate to the crime are relatively few these days: the offence is either too violent or too trivial, risking the intervention of parents and courts.

Besides being ineffective, spanking may also make matters worse. Ten years ago a study by a presidential task force into juvenile crime in schools condemned corporal punishment as too often unbalanced and emotional on the teacher's side. A child's dress and appearance, his reputation and his colour are all weighted up in the decision whether to spank or not. As for the child, the beating labels him as delinquent in the eyes of other teachers and among his peers. It may mark the point where the attractions of the park the street or petty crime finally win against the new maths.

There is now a movement for a bill of rights for children which would cover all forms of abuse and neglect, whether at home or in institutions. It is largely because of this that instances of physical mistreatment of children are coming up much more frequently before the Supreme Court. The treatment of children in schools, however, is still a separate question. Classroom are accepted as areas open to public scrutiny and already governed by a prevailing law of moderate behaviour; teachers who use excessive force against pupils may always be sued for assault in both the civil and criminal courts. In that sense, in the view of the Supreme Court, the children are already protected enough.

blob Follow-up: 2 May 1977 - The Court: Don't Spare the Rod

blob See also: Extracts from A Legal Analysis of Ingraham v. Wright

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