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School CP - December 2013

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Pensacola News Journal, Florida, 5 December 2013

Santa Rosa schools still paddling

By Rhema Thompson


Spare the rod and spoil the child, the biblical proverb goes.

But in schools across the nation, the use of the proverbial "rod" has become dramatically less popular. In fact, 31 states have banned public schools from use of corporal punishment.

In Florida during the past two decades, corporal punishment has declined drastically from about 24,000 students punished in 1991-92 to just less than 3,000 students in 2011-12, according to the Florida Department of Education. Currently, there are about 20 school districts in the state among the 67 where corporal punishment still is practiced.

Santa Rosa County District is one of them.

The district defines corporal punishment in its code of conduct as "the moderate use of physical force or physical contact by a Principal or Assistant Principal to maintain discipline or to enforce rules."

Under the district's code of conduct, corporal punishment is limited to a maximum of two strokes for kindergarten through third-grade students, a maximum of three strokes for fourth through sixth-graders, and no more than four strokes for seventh through 12th-graders with a 19-inch wooden paddle, no more than ⅜ inches thick and 4 inches wide. In each case, a parent must request the punishment to be administered, the policy states.

During the 2011-12 school year, 178 students received corporal punishment at 13 district schools in Santa Rosa, according to state department data. In the state's data, students only are counted once for each type of disciplinary action. But the total number of corporal punishment incidents for 2011-12 -- sometimes involving the same student on multiple occasions -- was 227, according to Santa Rosa Director of Middle Schools David Gunter. Corporal punishment also was used in 207 instances in 2012-13 and 24 times so far this school year in the district.

Out of 29,933 discipline referral instances between July 2011 and October 2013, a total of 460, or 1.5 percent, have involved corporal punishment, according to district data.

Escambia County discontinued the practice at its schools several years ago.

The method has long been a bone of contention among human and civil rights advocates. Among child psychology experts such as Dr. Scott Benson, it has been deemed ineffectual at best and damaging at worst.

"I have evaluated children and teachers who have been injured when somebody thought corporal punishment was necessary," said Benson, a psychiatrist at Creekside Psychiatric Center. "What it reflects is a failure on the part of adults to figure out some other way to help children organize their behavior, provide a structure for them that limits their opportunities to get into trouble."

And it's a practice is being fervently challenged by James McNulty, founder of Floridians Against Corporal Punishment in Public Schools.

"Those are acts of violence," McNulty said. "Violence should never be offered as an option for discipline, and that is what is occurring here. They are offering physical force in lieu of another punishment."

Gunter, however, argues that the method is used only after the student in question has been referred to the office and the student's parents have been contacted.

Santa Rosa County School Board President Diane Scott favors abolishing the policy. The last time it was brought before the board about four years ago, parents and citizens argued in support and opposition to the practice, she said. The board ultimately voted to uphold the policy.

"I just believe that it's not an effective way to discipline students," she said. "We put children at risk of injury and teachers at risk of being held liable."

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