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School CP - October 1999

The Chilliwack Progress, British Columbia, 5 October 1999

Is it time to bring back corporal punishment?

Most politicians seem to think parents, not schools, need to be the ones wielding the strap

By Mark Falkenberg
Staff Writer

The closure of the Islamic College of B.C. over allegations that students were routinely beaten has rekindled debate over the boundaries of corporal punishment.

The unregistered school at Laidlaw, 35 kilometres east of Chilliwack, was closed voluntarily by principal/owner Mohammed Qasmi after Hope RCMP charged him with assault.

Police were acting on allegations by a former student that teachers often disciplined students by beating them with switches. News of the charges has provoked controversy, yet corporal punishment in schools may have its place, says Reform MP Chuck Strahl.

Current rules about physical punishment in schools have "gone too far," he says. "Let's face it, what we've come down to now is, you'd be hard-pressed to find a teacher who would touch a student at any place or any time - It's that bad.

"You basically can't touch another student ... and that is going too far."

Mr. Strahl stresses he doesn't advocate the kind of punishment allegedly meted out at the Laidlaw school, but says, "I think that authority figures should be able to use reasonable force or reasonable discipline. There is a section of the criminal code that allows them to do that.

"I've always felt that both parents and people who are in a position of authority, should be able to use reasonable force," he says. "That's quite different than abuse."

In B.C. public schools, the rules regarding physical punishment of students are clear. Under Article 76 of the B.C. School Act, all schools "must be conducted on strictly secular and non-sectarian principles." Specifically, "the discipline of a student while attending an educational program made available by a board or a Provincial school must be similar to that of a kind, firm and judicious parent, but must not include corporal punishment.

Chilliwack School Board chairman Ywe Looper says that's as it should be.

Physical punishment should be entirely the decision of parents, he says. Compared to parents, "the school essentially plays an important but secondary role." "I think the schools can carry out their mandate without corporal punishment." Chilliwack MLA Barry Penner agrees.

"I think any form of physical punishment should be left to parents," Mr. Penner says. "It's their responsibility to exercise that form of discipline if they choose so ... particularly considering that our Criminal Code doesn't allow people convicted of serious criminal offenses to be physically punished."

"I find it unpalatable to have our children exposed to physical punishment when we don't do that to serious criminals."

While the B.C. School Act rules out corporal punishment in public schools, independent schools in the province come under different legislation that is silent on this issue, essentially leaving it in the hands of individual boards.

Fred Herfst, director of the B.C. Federation of Independent Schools Association, stresses the Laidlaw school was not a member of his organization, which discourages private or separate schools from imposing physical discipline.

In cases where schools decide in favour of corporal punishment, the organization recommends that parents' assent be given first, that "North American standards" be used, and that provisions of the Criminal Code are followed.

Section 43 of the code allows teachers to use "force by way of correction toward a pupil or child ... if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances."

Of course, says Mr. Strahl, what is reasonable "must be decided on a case-by-case basis."

October 5, 1999 © The Chilliwack Progress

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