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Los Angeles Times, 18 January 1996
Assembly Panel OKs School Paddling Bill
By Eric Bailey, Times Staff Writer, Sacramento
Eager to turn back the clock on student discipline, Assembly Republicans pushed out of a key committee Wednesday a bill that would allow California schools to reinstitute corporal punishment ranging from standing in front of the blackboard to paddling.
On a straight partisan vote, the Assembly Education Committee approved by a 9-8 margin the measure by Assemblyman Mickey Conroy (R-Orange) that would reverse the state's decade-old ban on corporal punishment of students.
"When corporal punishment was eliminated from our schools, so was control," Conroy said, adding that his measure will have the effect of "telling California's youth that they will be held accountable. . . . Right now they know they can get away with just about anything without fear of punishment."
Conroy's corporal punishment bill (AB 101) and a companion measure he wrote calling for paddling of juvenile graffiti vandals (AB 7) have been embraced by Republicans in this election year and are among the sharpest indicators of the widening rift between the GOP and Democrats on issues involving the family.
Democrats have staunchly opposed both of Conroy's bills. They point to studies that indicate that violent and humiliating punishment by adults often backfires, creating more difficulties with problem students, breeding resentment and anger while inciting violent tendencies within a child.
In addition, research has found that minority students and poor white children receive corporal punishment four to five times more frequently than middle- and upper-class white children.
"Children learn violence by being treated violently," said Assemblywoman Dede Alpert (D-Coronado), the committee chairwoman. "It isn't the role of government to spank children. That is the obligation and right and decision of families, not of governments."
The measure was opposed during Wednesday's hearing by a wide range of educational groups, among them the California PTA, a school nurses association and the California Federation of Teachers.
"There has been 30 years worth of research on corporal punishment in schools, and it all shows it doesn't work," said Jeth Gold, a licensed clinical social worker in San Francisco. "All of this research is telling us that violence begets violence."
But Conroy accused his opponents of engaging in psychobabble and insisted that escalating problems in California schools prove all the studies wrong. He emphasized that his measure would not require districts to practice corporal punishment, but would give them the authority to reinstitute the practice at their discretion.
The bill, which goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee next week, would require school personnel to administer the punishment with another adult present. A parent would be provided a written explanation and a school would have to get written permission from a parent before practicing corporal punishment on a child.
Conroy's bill would protect the paddler from civil and criminal liability except in the case of excessive force or cruel and unusual punishment, a provision opponents predicted would not stand up in court.
Conroy said he decided to pursue the measure after receiving several letters from teachers, who suggested that corporal punishment was an excellent deterrent to bad behavior.
Los Angeles Times, 19 January 1996
Major Disputes Over Corporal Punishment
Paddling would instill discipline, say backers of state bill
By Diane Seo, Times Staff Writer
Remember the days when unruly kids at school were punished with a good old-fashioned swat on the behind? Those days may soon be here again if an Orange County legislator has his way.
Assemblyman Mickey Conroy (R-Orange) has proposed bringing corporal punishment back to California schools after a decade-long absence, alarming many people but also winning praise from those who believe a good spanking can do a child good.
"Today, kids are getting away with everything," said Lisa Van Tassell, whose child attends Jeane Thorman Elementary in Tustin. "Something's got to be done to get children's respect back. As long as the paddling is well supervised and doesn't go overboard, I would support it." Kids, however, gave a thumbs-down to the idea.
"If it happened to me, I would go right to the phone and call my mom or dad, and I know they wouldn't like it," said Portia Moss, a seventh-grader at A.G. Currie Middle School in Tustin.
The corporal punishment bill has advanced to the Assembly Appropriations Committee after clearing the Education Committee on Wednesday. Since 1986, state public school educators have been banned from using corporal punishment, the moderate use of physical force by a teacher or principal to maintain discipline.
But Conroy's bill and his companion measure that calls for paddling of juvenile graffiti vandals have been embraced this year by Republicans, who hold a majority in the Assembly. They see the return of spanking and other forms of assertive discipline as a return to basic education practices.
The corporal punishment bill would not require school districts to reinstate paddling but would allow schools to adopt corporal punishment policies if they choose. Under the provisions of the bill, school employees could paddle students only if another adult is present and if they get prior written permission from a parent.
"Mickey's appalled by all the violence going on in public schools and believes the violence has skyrocketed since corporal punishment was banned," said Patrick Joyce, an aide to Conroy. "He believes corporal punishment is one thing that can be used to restore discipline and give kids a sense of accountability."
Some people, however, are appalled that California could return to the days when a teacher or principal could whack a disobedient student for mouthing off, getting into a fight or engaging in other naughty behavior. Some educators said that even if the state allows them to administer corporal punishment, they have no plans to do so.
"I'm a 20-year veteran of the Marines, but even I don't see paddling as being able to solve any problems," said Charles Milligan, principal at Spring View Middle School in Huntington Beach. "If we brought it back, I don't think it would change anything."
But other school officials say corporal punishment has its merits and a place at school, as long as parents give their consent.
"A lot of times, if the punishment is swift and brings the issue to a conclusion, it can be effective," said Tom Meiss, varsity football coach at Foothill High in Tustin. "I have no doubt or reservation saying it's an effective form of discipline, but I'm just not sure how parents would feel. A lot of parents probably spank their own children, but they may not be anxious to have someone else do it."
While some parents support the idea of corporal punishment, others fear educators would abuse their rights to spank a child.
"I can't even imagine a responsible adult thinking of reinstating paddling," said Sueanne Pacini, a parent at Andersen Elementary in Newport Beach. "I don't think corporal punishment belongs in the school or in the home. . . . What a waste of time and money to put a bill like this through."
While walking home from Currie Middle School, seventh-grader Cecilia Davis cringed at the thought of being whacked at school.
"No one should be able to hit you except your parents," Cecilia said. "I think if teachers started hitting kids, some kids would hit the teacher back."
Wendy Flores, an eighth-grader at Currie, said she would rather be suspended than spanked.
"I think it's embarrassing to be hit in front of the class and have marks on your body," she said.
Don Keller, principal at Kazuo Masuda Middle School in Fountain Valley, remembers paddling students while he was an administrator with the Long Beach Unified School District in the early 1980s.
"I had mixed emotions about it then," he said. "At the time we were using swats for everything from truancy to other infractions. With some kids, it was effective. For others, it was not."
Keller, who also was paddled in school, believes reinstating corporal punishment wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, although he knows it is not regarded as the politically correct way to discipline students.
"People who are pro-corporal punishment are seen as Neanderthals," he said. "If it were returned to the schools, I would use it sparingly because it's something that could be abused."
The Press-Democrat, Santa Rosa, California, 19 January 1996
Let the Public Speak
Republicans in the state Assembly are attempting to pass legislation which would reinstate paddling for those guilty of graffiti vandalism and serious school offenses.
Ten years ago state legislators removed one of the few remaining credible deterrents for recalcitrant school behavior when they eliminated corporal punishment.
I personally spent over 20 years as a school administrator where we used the paddle judiciously, without anger, privately and for just cause. Rarely, having once been paddled, did the same student return for a second session.
Over the years I have had many past students tell me how much they feared the thought of that particular trip to the office. Did swift, sure punishment deter unacceptable behavior? You bet it did!
Whom are we to believe, the ivory tower theorists and social bleeding hearts or the very people whose behavior we are trying to modify?
Does anybody doubt the need? Are other punishment options working? Graffiti vandalism and poor school behavior are epidemic, and we are doing little to change the lack of respect for law and authority. Let's give paddling a chance!
© 1996 - The Press Democrat
Los Angeles Times, 28 January 1996
Paddling: Strong or Wrong Approach?
Re "Major Disputes Over Corporal Punishment" (Jan. 19):
I was a public school teacher, counselor, assistant principal and principal from 1964 through 1983 at both junior high and senior high schools. I have administered corporal punishment to hundreds of students at both levels, male and female, and can remember receiving a couple of "swats" myself when in junior high school.
When I received swats, my response was very different than Portia Moss' would apparently be. I assume that's because I believed my parents' response would be different than Portia Moss stated her parents would respond. My parents would have been upset with me, not the school. That's why I never told them. I did not repeat the conduct that caused the swat either. The difference in the anticipated parental response is precisely the problem.
My experience is that corporal punishment, when administered in a formal and selective manner, is very effective as an alternative to other forms of punishment, especially for younger students. Corporal punishment is not very effective with high school students.
The primary difficulty with administering corporal punishment at school is the attitude and reaction of the parents. This very same attitude and reaction is the primary reason we now have a teenage population so out of control. The modern permissive, protective manner of raising children has never worked.
I'm not suggesting that you never go to the aid of your children or that schools never make a mistake. I'm merely saying that raising children to be responsible sometimes means letting them take responsibility for their conduct even if it is conduct that results in corporal punishment. With a parental approach such as this, your children are less likely to need corporal punishment.
C. LARRY FANCHER
San Francisco Chronicle, 30 January 1996
Spanking Debate Hits Assembly
GOP-backed bill on student discipline to be considered today
By Nanette Asimov, Chronicle Staff Writer
In the mid-1950s, Principal Bob Simonds maintained discipline at El Monte Pilgrim High School with high standards, good teachers and a four-inch-wide wooden paddle.
Punishment was swift and to the point. Two or three swats to the hindquarters delivered by Simonds was intended to cure students of their pencil-swiping and class-cutting habits.
"We had tremendous results," said Simonds, who now runs a Christian organization in Irvine called Citizens for Excellence in Education. "The Bible says you spare the rod and spoil the child. That's hard for liberals to accept."
And so it is. On January 17, a vote to restore corporal punishment to California schools split along party lines in the Assembly Education Committee. The bill passed, 9 to 8, and is to be considered today by the full Assembly, which also has a Republican majority.
If the bill survives the gauntlet of the Democrat-dominated Senate, California would reverse its 1986 ban and become the first state to overturn a permanent prohibition on corporal punishment.
As scientific data have come to weigh heavily against the effectiveness of corporal punishment, states have moved away from its use. Today, 27 states ban the practice, as do all industrialized nations except the United States, South Africa and parts of Canada and Australia. Twenty-five years ago, just one state, New Jersey, outlawed physical force against children.
Studies show that states with corporal punishment have higher rates of student violence than those without it, writes sociologist Murray Straus in his 1994 book, "Beating the Devil Out of Them."
"Of course, the reverse could also be true -- the higher the rate of student assaults, the greater the authorization for corporal punishment," writes Straus, who founded the Family Research Laboratory of the University of New Hampshire. Either way, he said, hitting children does not reduce violence to the level found in schools without corporal punishment.
Famed Harvard University psychologist B.F. Skinner, grandfather of behavior modification theories, argued that corporal punishment does indeed modify behavior -- but in undesirable ways. When the California Legislature was considering whether to ban it in 1986, Skinner wrote to Sam Farr, then a Democratic assemblyman from Carmel, that students who are hit will avoid school, vandalize property or become apathetic.
The bill to reinstate corporal punishment was introduced by Republican Assemblyman Mickey Conroy of Orange County and co-authored by independent state Senator Quentin Kopp of San Francisco, among others. They define the practice as "the moderate use of physical force or physical contact by a teacher or principal as may be necessary to maintain discipline or to enforce school rules."
The bill should not be confused with a second Conroy bill to be considered today, which would allow graffiti vandals to be flogged in court with a paddle half an inch thick, 16 inches long and 3-7/8 inches wide.
By contrast, the first bill directs local school boards to define corporal punishment for themselves: Is it rapping young knuckles with a ruler or hitting rear ends with a paddle?
Principals would have to authorize the punishment, but permission would not be required each time, the bill states. A second adult would witness the spanking, and an explanation would be sent home afterward. Parents could exempt their children in advance.
"By bringing back corporal punishment, we are telling California's youth that they will be held accountable for their actions," Conroy said.
His aide, Patrick Joyce, said the assemblyman has no data to suggest that corporal punishment improves behavior. "Most of our information comes from letters from supporters rather than scientific research," Joyce said.
Except in the case of excessive punishment, teachers, principals and even bus drivers would not be criminally or civilly liable for hitting a child, the bill states.
"That's what's weird about this," said state superintendent of schools Delaine Eastin, who opposes the bill. "California has pretty strict rules about reporting any kind of child abuse. But corporal punishment says that when an adult is out of patience, it's OK to use physical force. I question the judgment of allowing this to occur."
Black and blue
In Noble County, Ohio, where paddling has been a tool of classroom discipline for generations, a criminal court acquitted social studies teacher Bill Dimmerling last year of paddling 10-year-old Zebedee Gurewicz until the boy was black and blue.
"I'd written a behavior report to his parents that he needed to exercise more self-control," Dimmerling recalled.
"One day, he blew his nose extremely loudly. Then he got more paper and blew it again. He and the students thought it was very funny. Eventually I got out my paddle and let him know that the consequences could very well be a paddling. He continued right on. That's when I exercised my legal option for corporal punishment."
Said Zebedee: "He grabs me by the hand, squeezed it really hard and jerked me out of my desk and was pulling me to the door. He told me to stand next to the door and don't move, and he got another teacher. Then he grabbed me again, and we went into the stairwell.
"My feet were like five inches to where I could fall in the stairwell. He said, 'Zeb, I'm doing this for your own good. Bend over and touch your toes.' Then he paddled me. The second time he hit me, it brought me up on my tip-toes. Then I backed against the wall and was holding my rear end. And he said, 'One more time.'"
Dark purple bruises appeared across his buttocks within hours. His mother, Deanna Warner, was aghast.
"It's abuse," she said. "If I had done that to my child, I'd be in jail."
Zebedee refused to return to Dimmerling's class, so his mother tutored him. He passed, barely. Meanwhile, Warner filed a criminal complaint against Dimmerling.
A jury deliberated for less than 10 minutes before acquitting the 25-year veteran teacher. Cheers erupted in court for Dimmerling, also a high-ranking minister at Zeb's church. Old women whooped. Friends clapped him on the back. And Zebedee's parents watched in silence and decided to move away.
Zebedee's story, while not unusual, is becoming less common nationwide. In 1990, educators legally struck 613,000 children, down from 1.4 million in 1982, says the U.S. Department of Education. More than 40 national groups oppose corporal punishment, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Bar Association and the National Association of Elementary School Principals.
In California, numerous critics include the state PTA, teachers unions, the Association of California School Administrators and Superintendent Eastin, who predicts that lawsuits like Deanna Warner's will abound in the state.
But Bob Simonds of Citizens for Excellence in Education said the Ohio teacher was correct to hit Warner's son.
Referring to the boy as an "obnoxious little brat," Simonds said: "He's embarrassing the teacher, and he's destroying the teacher's authority in the classroom. Many psychologists don't know what it's like to have 30 kids in class with one kid saying, 'Yeah, what are you going to do about it?'
"Well, what I'm going to do," he said, "is paddle your little butt."
Los Angeles Times, 31 January 1996
Assembly Rejects Bill on Paddling
By Eric Bailey, Times Staff Writer, SacramentoModerate Republicans in the Assembly broke ranks Tuesday with their conservative colleagues and helped administer a stinging rebuke to a controversial bill repealing the state's decade-old ban on corporal punishment in the classroom. Capping an hour of often emotional debate, the Assembly rejected the bill by Assemblyman Mickey Conroy (R-Orange) on a surprisingly decisive 47-19 vote that saw 10 Republicans join in opposition with 36 Democrats and one independent.
Conroy, who gained extraordinary national attention after introducing the measure and a companion bill to allow the paddling of juvenile graffiti vandals, was stunned by the result. He chalked it up to generational differences.
"You had a bunch of young freshman Republicans raised in the 1960s who never knew the benefits of corporal punishment," Conroy said. "They just didn't get it."
The vote also marked the first time since the Republicans seized firm control of the Assembly leadership in early January that the GOP caucus had frayed on an issue embraced by leaders in the party's conservative wing, among them new Speaker Curt Pringle of Orange County.
Despite the setback, Conroy said he plans to go forward with a vote in the Assembly today on his measure that would let a judge order a parent to whack a juvenile graffiti vandal up to 10 times with a wooden paddle.
A handful of key GOP moderates -- among them Speaker Pro Tem Fred Aguiar of Chino, Assemblymen Jim Cunneen of Cupertino and Brooks Firestone of Los Olivos -- joined Democrats in opposing the school paddling bill and drew seven other Republicans with them. A dozen other GOP lawmakers ducked the issue, declining to cast a vote on Conroy's measure.
Cunneen set the tone early on, glancing at his fellow Republicans as he told them that "this is an issue that is crying out for some common sense."
While saying it is "wrong for liberal extremists in our society to somehow equate a parent spanking their child to child abuse," Cunneen argued that Conroy's bill would prove just as bad. It would allow, he said, the "de facto transfer of parental authority to bureaucrats" at public schools.
He also suggested that the measure "sends the wrong signal" to California voters eager to see the Legislature take serious steps to solve the state's daunting fiscal and societal problems.
Democrats, meanwhile, swarmed in opposition. They labeled Conroy's idea a throwback to a more inhumane age and an intolerable intrusion into matters best left up to parents. They also echoed studies showing that paddling and other forms of humiliating physical punishment teach children the wrong lessons about violence while breeding resentment, embitterment and anger among adolescents.
Opponents also expressed fear that the most authoritarian and cruel teachers would use corporal punishment, which has historically taken the form of paddling, punching, kicking and shaking.
"Mr. Conroy, shame on you!" lectured Assemblywoman Jackie Speier (D-Burlingame). "This bill is mean-spirited. This bill is about assault on children in the state of California. . . . Those of you who think corporal punishment returning to the school will solve our problems, wake up."
She also cited a case of a child in Ohio who was paddled by a teacher for blowing his nose in class. "If a teacher can paddle a kid because they blew their nose the wrong way," Speier concluded, "we've got a sorry state of affairs."
Conservatives, however, argued that escalating problems in California schools prove that a get-tough approach is needed to gain the upper edge with unruly youths.
"It sends a clear message [to students] that we're not going to tolerate their mischief anymore," Assemblyman Gary G. Miller (R-West Covina) said, adding that "we have to change the attitude of young people. Not in a brutal way, but somehow you have to get their attention."
Conroy's measure would not have required districts to practice corporal punishment, but would have given the authority to schools that wanted to reinstitute the practice. The bill would have required school personnel to administer the punishment with another adult present. A parent would have been provided a written explanation and a school would have been required to get written permission before physically punishing a child.
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