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School CP - February 2001
Detroit News, 5 February 2001
Corrected article: Because of an editing error in a Monday story, the size of a paddle allegedly used by a Murray-Wright football coach to strike a player was listed incorrectly.
Player says coach hit, bruised him
Police investigate January paddling of Detroit Murray-Wright football playersBy Fred Girard
The Detroit News
Joel Blankenship, head football coach at Detroit Murray-Wright High School, faces a police investigation into charges he used a wooden paddle 2-feet long and 2-inches thick to strike players who got poor grades or broke other school rules, police and school officials said Friday.
Omi Judkins, a 15-year-old freshman, has not returned to school since a Jan. 22 incident in which he says he received 10 blows with the paddle, and six or seven teammates were hit as well -- one hit 12 or 13 times. Blankenship struck him so hard, Judkins said Friday, the paddle cracked.
Blankenship said Murray-Wright Principal Sallie Polk had forbidden him to discuss the incident, and family members have agreed he should not. "I told (family members) I've apologized for this from day one, but they think it's best if I don't say anything now. Omi is just a beautiful kid -- you have no idea how painful this is to me."
In three conversations with The Detroit News, he did not refute any of Judkins' statements about the Jan. 22 incident.
Blankenship said Polk had disciplined him, but declined to describe the penalties. The News first reached him Friday afternoon at the school, where he was on duty teaching his history class.
Polk was not in the building Friday, and did not respond to a message left on her home answering machine. Assistant Principal Louis Branson confirmed that the incident had occurred, but said he could not discuss it further.
Judkins' mother, LaTanya Pruett, said Friday she took her son to Children's Hospital of Michigan two days after the incident. There, an emergency room doctor noted "11-inch long transverse dark bruise (by) 7 inches wide on both buttocks" among other marks, according to documents obtained by The News. The doctor instructed Pruett to report the incident to police and social workers.
Sgt. Gawaine Hughes of the Detroit Police Department child abuse section said Friday that the complaint had been made and a case file opened, and an investigator would be assigned as early as today.
"We'll bring the kid in and get his statement, then bring in the football coach," Hughes said. "If (Blankenship) is smart, and he follows (school board) protocol, he'll come in with a lawyer."
The Jan. 22 incident was the second time he had been paddled, Judkins said. He was struck twice by Blankenship on another occasion after a teacher reported to the football coach that Judkins had been involved in a verbal confrontation with a classmate.
On at least a half-dozen occasions, he said, he has seen teammates struck with the paddle for various infractions such as talking back to teachers or receiving poor progress reports.
It is such a common occurrence, Judkins said, that players have a nickname for it -- "getting the wood" -- but it is never discussed with outsiders. "People have got hurt, bruised and swollen," he said. "But, following behind the 'in crowd,' some people call it, (they) don't want to be the oddball out of the crowd" and complain about it.
Judkins said the incident began when a secretary announced over the school's public address system that all members of the varsity and junior varsity were to report to Blankenship with their just-issued report cards. In the school's science room, Judkins said, Blankenship gave a brief lecture on the importance of earning good grades, not just to play football but to be a success in life.
Blankenship began going through the report cards, separating them into two stacks, Judkins said -- and then came the paddling.
"If you got a D, basically, you were getting the wood," Judkins said. "If you got all C's and up you were OK. Every D counts for three (whacks with the paddle), and every F counts for five. We were over a long desk, palms down, facing forward, and he just proceeded to hit us. I had two F's and a D, so I was supposed to get 13 hits, but he stopped at number 10. I was like the eighth person to get hit. One person got a couple hits more than me."
Judkins said that as Blankenship was striking him, he kept saying "that he wasn't doing it out of malice, he was trying to make me a man so I could survive out in the world."
Judkins, a 6-foot-3, 308-pound center who started every game in the junior varsity's 7-1 season, said he refused to cry while being hit.
"Some people did cry," he said. "I can endure a lot of pain, so it didn't really bother me that much when he was doing it. It was the aftermath of what he did that bothered me emotionally, mentally and physically. I went in the bathroom and pulled my pants down and looked in the mirror -- I didn't think he was going to do something like that, that bad. He's a good person. I had put all my trust in him -- I just never believed he'd do something like that.
"I really looked up to him. He played for Michigan, so I had my eye set on being like him. I always wanted to play for a major school, go to Michigan. Now, I might not play football at all."
Pruett said she knew her son was hurting the minute she saw him after school that day.
"He was cringing, his face was frowning," she said. "At first he didn't want to tell me what was wrong -- he said, 'Aw, I just got some wood.' I insisted that he pull his pants down and let me see, and I just started crying, I could not believe it. It was black, and red, and swollen, he had these big dents in his behind."
At a meeting at Murray-Wright the next day, Pruett said, Polk looked at the bruises, "and she started to cry, She said she couldn't believe that somebody would do something like that."
Polk then brought Blankenship into the meeting, Pruett said, and made him look at the bruises.
"He was shocked," Pruett said. "I asked him, 'Did you do this?' He said 'Yeah, I did that.' He went to explain his reasoning -- that he didn't know it was that bad, and when you're dealing with boys you have to do different, and that this is the way he was raised. His father's a minister and he was raised getting whupped, and he was on football teams all his life and that's what the coaches did to them. So, since he was raised that way and that happened to him, that was the proper way to do things.
"But he said he never imagined that it was that bad. Because I guess nobody had ever said anything or showed him the damage he was doing to them. Nobody ever said anything about this. Parents need to know."
Judkins said he told his coach during the emotional meeting "that I know it wasn't out of malice, but that he did actually hurt me. Probably not knowing it, but he did, physically, mentally and emotionally. Emotionally, I was about in tears when I was talking to him -- I actually did not want to see him in trouble, but after something like that, I think you should be punished."
Judkins said he has not returned to school because, "I just don't trust anyone in the school system right now. I might get into a confrontation with somebody."
Pruett said Murray-Wright officials have not given her assurances that her son would be protected from retribution, and have not offered to help with transportation to send him to another school. Pruett, who lives on Detroit's east side with her son, enrolled him at Murray-Wright because it had a better academic reputation than his own neighborhood high school, she said.
The News was able to reach one other player who Judkins said was hit during the Jan. 22 incident, but he and his mother declined to be interviewed.
Sarah Suter, 17, a senior who played nose guard for Murray-Wright's varsity the past two years, the only woman on the squad, said Blankenship "watches out for me -- I don't ever get yelled at. I think some of the kids who complain are the ones who skip school, or talk back to people, things like that."
She has never seen or heard of anyone being paddled, she said. "Coach Blankenship is very strict, he will chastise players, get up in their face. But I've heard parents say he handles the team really well, and they don't mind about the way he chastises them."
When Murray-Wright student Cassandra Emerson was receiving academic honors in 1997, she said in a newspaper interview that Blankenship was one of her two favorite teachers because "he takes interest in his students. I think every teacher should be dedicated."
Blankenship played football at Murray-Wright before receiving a scholarship to the University of Michigan in 1989 as a highly regarded defensive back. After graduating he returned to his alma mater and became head football coach seven years ago.
WDIV Detroit, 5 February 2001
Local High School Coach Accused Of Paddling Players
Doctor Told Student's Mother To Report It
DETROIT, 3:08 p.m. EST February 5, 2001-- A student has accused a local high school football coach of beating players with a wooden paddle if they had poor grades or broke other school rules.
Joel Blankenship, the head coach at Murray-Wright High School in Detroit, faces a police investigation, according to the Detroit police department's child abuse unit.
Omi Judkin, 15, told The Detroit News that he received 10 blows to his buttocks with a paddle on Jan. 22. He also said that six or seven teammates were beaten as well, one of them hit 12 or 13 times.
The paddle was a 26-inch-long thick wooden paddle, according to WWJ radio.
Judkin's mother said that she took her son to Children's Hospital of Michigan two days after the alleged incident. There, an emergency room doctor noted "11-inch long transverse dark bruise (by) 7 inches wide on both buttocks" among other marks, according to The News.
The doctor instructed the woman to report the incident to both police and social workers, The News reported.
Judkin's mother filed a complaint with the police department against Blankenship, police said.
Blankenship told the newspaper that Murray-Wright principal Sallie Polk has forbade him from speaking about the incident.
"I told (family members) I've apologized for this from day one, but they think it's best if I don't say anything now. (The student) is just a beautiful kid -- you have no idea how painful this is to me," Blankenship said.
The coach said that Polk has disciplined him, but he declined to say how.
Murray-Wright administrators said that they've heard the claims, but declined to comment.
A police report was filed Jan. 24, police said.
The police department will interview the student, the coach and other students and school officials, they said.
Detroit News, 6 February 2001
Coach put on leave
Detroit schools, police investigate paddling allegationBy Fred Girard
The Detroit News
DETROIT -- Murray-Wright football coach Joel Blankenship was suspended Monday, the same day a Detroit News article reported allegations that he disciplined players by striking them with a wooden paddle.
"We are investigating," said Detroit schools representative Stan Childress, who added that Blankenship "has been given an administrative leave with pay pending the outcome."
A 15-year-old freshman, Omi Judkins, said he and as many as seven other players were struck by Blankenship on Jan. 22, the day report cards came out.
Judkins told his mother, LaTanya Pruett, that he had been struck 10 times. Pruett said her son was so bruised that she took him to Children's Hospital of Michigan for treatment. A doctor there wrote in the medical records that the incident should be reported to police and social workers. Detroit police confirmed they have opened an investigation.
Judkins told The News that "the wood," as players call the 2-foot by 2-inch oak paddle, was used for infractions ranging from talking back in class to receiving a poor progress report.
Judkins, a 6-foot-3, 308-pound junior-varsity center, got an A and two Bs on his report card, but said he was paddled for a D and two failing grades.
An attorney consulted by Judkins' mother, James O. Elliott of Bloomfield Hills, said Judkins has not returned to school because officials have not offered to pay for his transportation to another school.
Childress disagreed, saying free bus transportation has been offered to Judkins.
"The principal has apologized to the child and his mother," he said, "and I can't think of any conceivable reason why we would not bend over backwards to assist this child, or any child."
Blankenship, a history teacher at Murray-Wright, declined to be interviewed.
Detroit News, 7 February 2001
Inside the Game
Blankenship's background is strict, but he's a good personBy Terry Foster
The Detroit News
Joel must not go.
By today's standards, Detroit Murray-Wright Coach Joel Blankenship probably made a mistake. He is charged with hitting a student with a paddle, trying to motivate and discipline him while on school grounds.
Blankenship admits using tough discipline. He learned from his father, who is a minister. He learned tough love under former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler.
Perhaps Blankenship should find new methods of keeping law and order on Murray-Wright's football team.
But he is not a tyrant. The Detroit Public Schools need more people who care, not fewer.
I've known Blankenship since his playing days at Murray-Wright. He is a good guy. He is not the enemy. He is a friend to children even though it might not look that way when he is trying to be strict.
Currently, Blankenship is suspended until the investigation is complete. At some point, the administration should sit down with him and iron out a new code of discipline. It would do no one any good to get rid of him. He deserves another chance.
But if Blankenship were to abuse his power in the future, the school would have no choice but to get rid of him.
These are not the old-school days of the paddle in school. We got it as kids and accepted it. But some adults abused their power to discipline and turned it into abuse. Now we have safeguards to protect kids.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Little Rock, 11 February 2001
Arkansas schools still using paddleBy Shannon Magsam
SPRINGDALE -- Jim Lewis got his share of "licks" with a paddle when he was a student in public school. Now that he's a principal himself, he paddles students only on rare occasions and as a last resort.
"Most principals now are far from the disciplinarians that principals used to be," said Lewis, principal at George Elementary in Springdale. He uses his wooden paddle about four times a school year and only with parents' consent. The principal was reluctant even to talk about paddling, since it's such a small a part of what goes on in his school.
"It's not who I am," he said.
Instead of giving licks, Lewis likes to work with the child and his parents on behavior changes when discipline problems arise. "The modeling that all of you do is more powerful than anything you say," Lewis told a family during a conference on Friday. He advised them to lean away from spankings, which the mother said often amounted to "swatting" her child as she was sent to her bedroom. "Paddlings and spankings are usually short-term fixes," he said.
Arkansas is one of 23 states that still allow corporal punishment in its public schools. Twenty-seven states have now banned the practice, up from five states in 1986.
The Arkansas Board of Education adopted a resolution in 1993 urging school districts to pass policies against corporal punishment, saying such punishment wasn't in line with national education goals. Nevertheless, about 90 percent of Arkansas' 310 school districts allow the practice, and the Arkansas Legislature has declined several times over the years to ban it.
"I don't think the Legislature would philosophically support banning it," said Jim Argue, D-Little Rock. "It represents a rural, male-dominated culture that sees corporal punishment as an acceptable tool of discipline."
Argue said he's in the minority as a lawmaker against the practice. He decided to stop spanking his own children after punishing his young daughter one day. His daughter wondered aloud why he would hit her as punishment for hitting her sister. The irony struck him.
"She kind of taught me a lesson," he said. "I don't think violence is a good tool [to encourage] nonviolence."
The legislature's inaction reflects the desires of many parents. Arkansas school officials said parents often urge administrators and teachers to paddle their children more often than they are willing. "We discourage it," said Hartzell Jones, deputy superintendent for personnel in the Springdale School District. "But a lot of parents want us to spank their kids.
"Some people don't think a good spanking is child abuse. They think the Bible supports that."
Arkansas leaves the decision up to individual school districts. If a district does allow paddling, it must have a policy that outlines the process. Paddling must be done in private with a qualified witness, not out in the hall or in a classroom.
Generally, paddlings are more prevalent in rural districts than in larger urban districts, school administrators said. About 10 districts have elected to ban the practice, including all Pulaski County public schools. The risk of lawsuits is one major deterrent, although courts have been fairly supportive of school districts unless there was blatant violence, said Charlie Russell, assistant superintendent for secondary education in the Rogers School District.
"Courts have not been anxious to intervene," he said. Corporal punishment is rarely used in his district, Russell said. "There are some who have real concerns about it being a violent act," he said.
However, he acknowledged, "We still have a good number of parents who are supportive of that." While parents are accustomed to the notion of paddling, some children are mystified by the very mention of it. Cassie Beers, 12, of Bentonville said she has never known anyone who has been paddled even though as a junior high student, she's at an age when paddlings most often occur. She was in middle school in Bentonville last year and in Oklahoma schools before that.
"I've never heard of anyone getting hit at any school I've ever gone to," she said.
Many education groups and professional psychiatric and psychology organizations are opposed to corporal punishment. Most have taken the position that corporal punishment perpetuates a cycle of abuse. There is also the argument that schools are the only institution in American in which striking another person is legally sanctioned. It's not allowed in prisons, the military or in mental hospitals.
When the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union gets complaints about injuries stemming from corporal punishment in schools, parents are told to take pictures and call the Department of Human Services, said Rita Sklar, ACLU executive director.
Last school year, Arkansas students were spanked 62,215 times, according to the Arkansas Department of Education. That would be one spanking each for about 13.9 percent of students in the state's public schools. The National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment lists Arkansas as No. 2 on its list of "Our Ten Worst States." Mississippi is at the top of the list, which is based on the percentage of students paddled statewide.
Some Arkansas districts have a corporal punishment policy but rarely paddle students. For instance, the 8,150-student Fayetteville School District reported only one paddling in the 1999-2000 school year. The Bentonville district reported 23 paddlings, while the Springdale district reported eight.
The Rogers School District reported none.
That's compared to the 1,800-student Osceola School District, which racked up 1,752 paddlings that same year. Osceola Superintendent Bruce Young was surprised by that total. "Yes, we do use it extensively, but I think we're using it less than we did a few years ago," he said.
With lawsuits so widespread, the district diligently stays within Arkansas law, which allows a principal or other certified employee to paddle a student in the presence of a witness who is also certified, he said. Common practice is three "licks," he said.
"In some cases it helps," Young said. "Corporal punishment, if administered correctly, is not designed to injure, it's psychological. I think it says to a student you must be submissive to authority." Young said "Saturday School" is one reason the number of paddlings has declined in the Osceola district. He introduced this discipline measure to Osceola when he started work there in 1997. A large number of high school students opt for paddling over Saturday school or detention, he said.
"Obviously it's viewed as less of a threat," he said. That's a sorry trade-off, said Randy Cox, a retired social worker who established the Little Rock-based Never Hit a Child organization in 1995. "It's kind of a corrupt way of putting them in a position of voluntarily submitting to this treatment," he said. Cox operates the Web site neverhitachild.org and corresponds with similar agencies all over the world. Cox has written letters to Arkansas legislators stating his view on the subject, but the Legislature has failed several times to support abolishing corporal punishment.
"That's not going to happen soon," he said. "It's provocative and potentially volatile. "It's not popular."
Cox has some experience with unpopularity. He has a bumper sticker with his Web site's address on it and it garners a lot of reaction. "It strikes up conversation sometimes," he said. "And dirty looks often. People consider that personal business."
Cox maintains that students in states that ban corporal punishment are more successful in life and school. Cox, like others against the practice, argued that states who allow it have poorer academic achievement, more pupil violence and higher drop out rates.
"There's no evidence that it does any good and a lot of evidence it does harm," he said.
The principal at George Elementary said there are some students he would never consider paddling. A student who has a history of abuse, for instance. Lewis said he would never paddle a student more than twice. But Lewis said mainly he's interested in creating the right atmosphere in the school, which includes having a rapport with students. "Discipline is such a small part of what I do," he said.
The State, Columbia, SC, 15 February 2001
Bill backs corporal punishment in schoolsBy Ken Knelly
School districts that allow corporal punishment would be protected from civil and criminal liability under a bill being taken up by a Senate subcommittee today.
The measure would prompt more districts to practice physical discipline, said bill sponsor Sen. Andre Bauer, R-Lexington.
"It's almost nonexistent now. And it's not practiced because of a fear of lawsuits," Bauer said. "This just protects them from frivolous lawsuits."
A similar bill was introduced by Bauer last year but did not advance out of the Senate Education Committee.
Under the measure, districts could not be found liable for damages unless the punishment application is grossly negligent or reckless and serious injury results.
The bill also provides that parents would have to be notified for their consent.
Existing state law permits each school district to use corporal punishment when it is deemed "just and proper."
Most of the state's 86 school districts allow corporal punishment in some form, but require parents' approval, said Pat Kinsey, policy services coordinator for the S.C. School Boards Association.
In the Columbia area, Richland 1 is the only district which expressly prohibits corporal punishment. Other local districts report its application is occasional at best.
The rarity is due in part to a concern about lawsuits, but is also due to changing social mores, said Ken Blackstone, a spokesman for Richland District 2 who surveyed some principals on Wednesday.
"I think (lawsuits) are a concern, but that's secondary," he said. "They're primarily concerned about effectiveness."
Drew Hazel, a parent of three in the Irmo-Chapin school system (--) which allows for corporal punishment in its rules but no longer applies it (--) said the change is a bad idea.
"Schools shouldn't be looking at ways to rid themselves of immunity," Hazel said. "We have other alternatives in discipline without resorting to violence."
But Bauer, who serves as a substitute teacher in several school districts, said teachers have requested the changes to promote more discipline in the classroom.
Scott Price, of the S.C. School Boards Association, said the organization does not oppose Bauer's bill.
He said attorneys for state school boards have said they are currently advising districts not to apply corporal punishment because of concerns over litigation.
An estimated 5,400 students in South Carolina, or about 0.8 percent of public school enrollment, were subject to corporal punishment during the 1997-98 school year, according to the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. The total, released in July 2000, is projected based on survey research.
Nationally, 27 states have banned corporal punishment or have no school districts which permit it.
Specifically, the bill would require districts to notify parents or guardians of a desire to apply corporal punishment. Those not wishing their children punished in such a way would be given the option of removing their child from school.
If a parent or guardian who objects could not be notified or does not remove the child, the student would be treated as if under suspension from school. They would be re-admitted at the discretion of the school district.
Detroit News, Michigan, 22 February 2001
Murray-Wright coach granted reprieve
He loses pay, not job, for paddling incidentBy Fred Girard
The Detroit News
DETROIT -- Joel Blankenship, head football coach at Detroit Murray-Wright High School, has been suspended without pay for five workdays and placed on one year's probation for disciplining players by striking them with a wooden paddle.
Blankenship remains under investigation by the child abuse section of the Detroit Police Department for the paddlings.
Junior-varsity player Omi Judkins, a 15-year-old freshman, said he and as many as seven other players were paddled by Blankenship on Jan. 22 for receiving poor grades.
Judkins' mother, LaTanya Pruett, said her son was bruised so badly she took him to Children's Hospital of Michigan. A doctor there instructed her to report the matter to police and child welfare authorities, according to an emergency-room report obtained by The Detroit News.
Judkins since has enrolled at another school.
Blankenship did not respond Wednesday to a request for an interview left on his home answering machine. He has been suspended with pay since Feb. 5, the day The News revealed the incident. The week without pay will cost Blankenship approximately $1,300.
A popular coach and history teacher who graduated from Murray-Wright, Blankenship received support from many football players, their parents and alumni.
"He would never hurt any of his students, because he cares about what happens to us," said former student Tania S. Wood in an e-mail to The News.
The suspension and probation were part of a "last chance agreement" with Blankenship, according to a statement released by Detroit Public Schools on Wednesday.
"The decision is intended to be progressive and to provide an opportunity for corrective future behavior," the statement said.
James O. Elliott of Bloomfield Hills, an attorney who represents Judkins and his mother, called the ruling "very surprising."
"This was clearly a criminal act," Elliott said.
Judkins and his mother were not available for comment.
The Enterprise Mountaineer, Haywood County, Waynesville, NC, 28 February 2001
Parents protest spanking
School paddling left boy severely bruised, terrified, parents sayBy Vicki Hyatt
A school paddling which a Hazelwood couple said resulted in their son being severely bruised has caused them to question where corrective action ends and abuse begins.
Rick Goodson and Linda Rathbone said their fifth-grade son was paddled so harshly by Hazelwood Elementary Principal Keith Wyatt that they sought medical attention after noticing the bruises on his backside. The incident happened on Friday, Feb. 16, the evening after they granted permission for him to be paddled.
"There's nothing wrong with paddling," Goodson said. "It's just when you go overboard. I thought I had some hard whuppings in school, but nothing like this. I wonder where that line is between spanking a kid and abusing him."
The emergency room doctor called their son's condition "severe bruising," Goodson said, and the marks were still present four days later when law enforcement authorities investigating the incident arranged for their son to see another physician. This doctor also said their son had been deeply bruised. More than a week later, there were still signs of bruising, Goodson said.
Goodson said if a parent punished a child to the extent that their son was punished in school, they would be charged with child abuse.
"I smacked my daughter one time and didn't even leave a welt," he said. "I went immediately to jail and had to make a $5,000 bond. It was throwed out of court."
But the Department of Social Services only has jurisdiction in incidents where the suspected abuse is inflicted by a parent, guardian or caretaker, according to Tony Beaman, Haywood County DSS director.
"We do not have legal jurisdiction over schools," he said, adding there's no "cookie cutter response" on what actions would constitute abuse. "It depends on where the bruises are. But bruises that lasted a week, that's pretty serious. Somebody got hit pretty hard. We would definitely look into that situation if it were a parent or caretaker."
Goodson said answers about the incident are in short supply. He was brushed off by the school, he said, and the detective investigating the matter said he needed to talk to the district attorney. When he called the district attorney's office, he was told he needed to speak with the detective, Goodson said.
In frustration, he talked to an attorney in Sylva and intends to take the matter to the school board.
Both law enforcement and school officials investigated the incident.
Haywood County Sheriff Tom Alexander said the results of the Child Abuse Task Force investigation into the Hazelwood incident and another incident at Bethel Elementary School were turned over to the district attorney's office late last week. The report information cannot be made public because juveniles are involved, he added.
"It's very unusual that we have two cases in the school in a 24- to 48- hour period," Alexander said.
School officials referred questions to Pat Smathers, the attorney for Haywood County Schools.
The school system is conducting an investigation of both incidents, Smathers confirmed, but could not comment further because students and personnel issues are involved.
"It appears board policies were followed," Smathers said. "An investigation is under way and if actions are deemed appropriate, they will be taken."
Mark Swanger, school board chairman, said he has asked board members not to discuss the matter with each other or with anyone else.
"If this is coming before the board, we act as a judge," Swanger said. "It's imperative myself and other board members have an impartial perspective."
Any school board discussions of the incidents would be held in closed session because it could involve a personnel action, as well as a student action, Swanger added.
The school board periodically revises policies and procedures, Swanger said, and the policy on corporal punishment is one that falls into that category.
"I would envision that we would revisit and review that policy to determine whether any modifications are necessary," he said.
No charged to be filed
District Attorney Charles Hipps said he reviewed the reports on the Hazelwood discipline incident and decided not to bring charges against the principal, largely because the state law and school policy allows corporal punishment. Another factor in this case was that the parent gave permission for the child to be paddled.
"When the parents agreed, they can't complain about the result unless there's injury beyond what normal bruising will occur when people get spanked," he said. "We have to give the educators the benefit of the doubt that they are trying to do the best for children. I do not see myself super-imposing my will on the school board in this county."
Hipps said if a child is severely injured during a paddling, such as having torn skin or broken bones, his office would not hesitate to prosecute. But educators are granted some leeway, he continued, and the facts as presented concerning the Hazelwood incident didn't cross the boundary, he said.
Those who have problems with the school policy or the result of the policy can bring a civil suit, where there is a lesser burden of proof, or can try to convince the school board to amend its policy, he suggested.
To get a conviction in a criminal case, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the principal intended to inflict an assault on the child beyond normal disciplinary measures, Hipps said.
"We'd have to get that past a judge and if the judge didn't throw it out, then we'd face what a jury in Haywood County would believe. No judge would find this discipline to be unreasonable based on what we saw and was reported," Hipps said.
Hipps said there were never any facts presented that the injuries came from anyone other than the principal administering the punishment or that the child bruised easily.
No decision will be made on how to proceed in the Bethel case until more information is provided, Hipps said.
"But here again, unless something is unusual and different about that, it will probably be the same conclusion (as Hazelwood)," Hipps added.
The school policy on corporal punishment becomes an issue every couple of years, Hipps said, and will likely continue to be raised until the policy is further clarified.
Rathbone said she received a phone call about her son's school behavior -- the first one ever -- late in the week he was paddled. She scheduled a conference with Wyatt the next morning.
When she took her son to school Friday, Feb. 16, she was told that her son and another boy had a food fight in the cafeteria, that he had been fighting and had been confined to the principal's office for two weeks.
Rathbone said her son told her he had been going to the principal's office, but she thought he was joking because surely she would have been contacted if he had been in trouble. During her conference, Rathbone said Wyatt told her he was at "his wits end" with her son.
"He said he didn't know what else to do, but he hadn't bothered to call me," the stay-at-home mother said. "If I had known, I would have taken privileges away. He even threatened to call the juvenile authorities. I was in shock."
Rathbone said she was given a choice of having her son suspended from school for three days or having him paddled.
"My understanding was it was three pops that wouldn't leave no bruises," she said.
She ended up keeping her son home from school for a week because he was too terrified to return to school, she said.
Goodson said law enforcement officials confiscated the paddle used by Wyatt, which he said was three-fourths inches thick and about four inches wide.
Before the paddling, the child said he had an upset stomach and needed to use the bathroom.
"He was terrified of the principal," Rathbone said. When he was gone a long time, Wyatt went to look for him and found he had locked himself in the bathroom, according to Rathbone. A janitor with the key had to be found to gain entrance.
When the family later learned the details of the paddling, they were appalled. Goodson said his son was instructed to stand tightly against a desk, with his body pressed close to the surface, and to lean forward with his hands stretched as far as possible across the the top of the desk.
"He didn't give none. He absorbed every bit of those blows," he said of his slightly built 10-year-old son.
The family was celebrating the birthday of their 15-year-old daughter that evening, Goodson said, and pretty much dismissed their son's complaints that his backside was still hurting.
"I kept laughing at him for getting a paddling until I seen this," Goodson said, gesturing to the daily photographs the family took of the bruises since they occurred. The photographs are dated and are close-up shots of large black, blue and gold patches on their son's backside.
"It felt like I sat in a fire," the boy said in an interview several days after the incident.
"If I had known it would be that bad, I would have never given my permission for a paddling," Rathbone said.
The couple said tests show their son is quite intelligent, and that teachers say he can do math problems more quickly than others in his class. They have not noticed or heard of any problems he has had in getting along with others, Goodson said, but, as with many 10-year-olds, he sometimes doesn't work as hard as he should on his school work.
The couple say they believe in discipline, but believe the incident with their son went too far.
Rathbone said she thinks there should be a "cooling down" period if the principal is angry when the paddling is carried out. They also want to warn others of what can happen if they give permission for their child to be paddled in school.
"I just hope this never happens to another kid," Rathbone said. "If someone doesn't stand up for the kids, this will keep happening."
Rathbone has been working with the school system to have her son moved to another school. To date the transfer has not been allowed, so the couple sent their son back to Hazelwood Elementary Monday, Feb. 26, because they didn't want him to miss more than the week of school he had already missed because of the incident.
North Carolina law State law states:
° Local boards of education can adopt policies on corporal punishment.
° Corporal punishment cannot take place in a classroom with other children present.
° Students must be informed beforehand that the possibility of corporal punishment exists.
° Only a teacher, substitute teacher, principal or assistant principal can administer corporal punishment and in the presence of a witness.
° One of the principal's duties is to discipline students and he or she must use reasonable force in the task.
° The parent or guardian must be informed corporal punishment has been administered. Upon request, a written explanation of the reasons for the punishment and the second school official who was present at the time must be provided.
° School officials may use reasonable force: 1) to control behavior or remove a person from the scene when injury to others is a threat, 2) to obtain weapons or dangerous objects from a student, 3) for self-defense, 4) for protection of persons or property and 5) to maintain order on school property.
Haywood County Schools policy
° Contains many aspects of the state law.
° States corporal punishment should not be used until alternative disciplinary methods have been tried.
° Says the most effective discipline is preventive and not punitive.
° Calls for the student body to be informed beforehand what general types of misconduct could result in corporal punishment.
° Additionally, Superintendent Bill Upton said there's a verbal agreement between his office and the principals that a child's parents will be contacted in advance for permission to paddle before this disciplinary action is taken.
© 2001, The Mountaineer Publishing Company
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Page updated: February 2003