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The Courier Herald, Dublin, Georgia, 4 January 2017
Laurens County Schools lead state in paddling
By Kelly Lenz
Georgia is one of 19 states that permit corporal punishment, also known as paddling, in schools.
The majority of states that still practice this form of punishment are southern states.
Among Georgia schools that allow corporal punishment, the Laurens County School District leads the state in the number of incidents of students paddled last year.
A total number of 975 or about 10 percent of the incidents of corporal punishment in the state, out of a total of 9,713, occurred in Laurens County last year.
Also, out of the 6,000 students in Georgia paddled last year, 585 or 10 percent of those were Laurens County students.
This data comes from what school districts in Georgia report each year to the Georgia Department of Education. The data is not available for every school district, as some metro area schools and others prohibit paddling.
When it comes to how corporal punishment is applied in the Laurens County School System, the methods and reasons for using corporal punishment are largely left up to each school's principal.
Besides a series of warnings, if a student requires more disciplinary action, it usually comes down to a student being suspended from the bus or school, or being paddled.
Other than that, there is no standardized written guide or methodology behind each administrator's decision to use corporal punishment when it comes to disciplining students or how large a paddle to use or the number of licks to apply to each student.
One of the arguments supporting the unusually high number of incidents of paddling in Laurens County Schools is the large size of the county and the large number of students, nearly 6,700.
However, this argument doesn't work when one examines Ware County, Georgia's largest county, which has nearly 7,000 students in its district but only reported 277 incidents of paddling last year.
In an August interview about the large number of corporal punishment incidents in Laurens County Schools, Superintendent Dr. Juli Alligood said, "Well, frankly, I don't know how all systems report it, but anytime there's a discipline incident, even if a child just comes in and we talk to the child, we put it into the computer. We try to be very thorough and transparent with that. Probably, a lot of systems are not very thorough about that."
Alligood said that corporal punishment has been used in the school system for 24 years and "has always been a means of punishment here," and I know that a lot of school systems have moved away from it.
She said that it is in the Laurens County Schools Parent and Student Handbook. In the handbook, parents who do not want their child corporally punished can opt out of that. We also always call parents before we administer any corporal punishment.
East Laurens Primary Principal Sherri Moorman, who was also present at the interview, said, "I know that since I've been at the primary and even when I was at the middle school, we probably don't have more than four or five parents a year who opt out. They have to physically write the letter and turn it in every year, and I haven't had any turned in this year."
When asked if having parents opt-in rather than have them have to opt-out of whether or not their child can be paddled at school might lower the number of incidents, Moorman said, "Well it's in the handbook and they (parents) sign that they read it and understand the policies. It would just seem like more of a paper trail to keep up with if they had to opt-in. I've got 600 students and I only have five last year who opted-out. That would be 595 pieces of paper to keep up with."
Moorman said, "Just at our level, before a child even comes to the office, the teacher has a behavior management system in their classroom and so there's been several things that they've tried as well –– sitting out at recess, walk the fence at recess, or they try other things to keep them in line before they ever come to the office.
"Now once they come to the office, said Moorman, generally the first time they come we just talk to them. We talk to every child the first time they come through, unless it's something really, really serious. "The second time, we tell them that if you come back again that you might have to 'meet the paddle.' That's where we start. Now as far as an alternative to paddling, at my age group, we don't have an in school suspension option. It's either a principal-designed plan where you do some extra work with me or you sit with me and miss your recess, or you go home would be the other option instead of paddling."
Alligood said, "At other grade levels we do have in-school suspension and there's always out-of-school suspension. We do try to reserve that for much more serious things when all other things fail, because the object is to keep the child in school."
"Obviously, they're not learning if they're not there, so that's always been a priority of ours -- to keep a child in school."
Moorman said, "And I do think sometimes, too, that people have their own idea of what a spanking is. It's not that children come in and get like 10 licks or anything like that. I mean, most of the time what we give is one lick.
For the most part, it's more of an attention getter than anything else."
"We are beginning a PBIS program in our schools," said Alligood, "which stands for Positive Behavior Intervention Support. PBIS is more of a positive behavior plan and we're getting that kicked off this year. We're hoping that maybe that'll make some difference."
Moorman said, "I think this year is more of a data-collecting year, trying to figure out where most of our issues are, so we can develop a plan to address it differently next year."
"Are we looking at other alternatives?" asked Alligood rhetorically. "Yes. That's why we've gotten involved in PBIS. Do I think that corporal punishment will go completely away? Maybe things will change eventually," she said.
"I don't know about the foreseeable future because, quite frankly, it's really supported by our parents."
"I know that when I was a principal at the primary school," said Alligood, "I would have parents say, 'Well, can't you just spank him? That always gets his attention.' Now every parent wouldn't say that, but it is strongly supported by many, many parents. I'm not going to say every last one would."
Moorman said, "Lots of times they'll ask if they can come to the school and spank them and then go back to work. I've had a lot of parents do that."
Alligood said, "We're studying our disciplinary patterns this year as we get into PBIS, so that we can hopefully get some other things going. I am confident that we'll have some good data because we are reporting it correctly. We have a good many bus referrals as well. Now that's something difficult to work on. As a principal, I used to go out on the buses and model good behavior."
"You have to do something because you do want to make sure that you are trying to give every effort to make a child behave on the bus, because that's probably the most dangerous situation a child is in," said Alligood.
"However, entering the discipline reports online can be a lengthy process, so I don't know that people intend not to report things. It takes a long, long time to go through a stack of them."
"I think that every child is different. Just like every child doesn't learn the same way, every child is not going to respond to discipline in the same way," said Alligood.
Moorman said, "A majority of our discipline last year was bus-related."
Moorman said she believes that if you took the bus discipline actions away that it would probably lower the system's numbers considerably.
She also pointed out that Laurens is a large county geographically, and that when young children are put on buses, their attention span doesn't last long.
Alligood said that the system has to balance disciplining the children against the importance of not distracting the drivers. "We do have some idiosyncrasies that other systems don't have."
When it's a bus situation, it's a bus suspension, Moorman said.
"You're suspended from riding the bus or it's the spanking, and most parents always would rather have the spanking than the child be off the bus for two or three days."
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