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School CP - September 2003

Corpun file 11930

Times Record News, Wichita Falls, Texas, 11 September 2003

Spanking policy draws criticism, praise

By Ann Work
Education reporter

Becky Chaney Times Record News

The Hargis family Stephen, left, Diane, Michael, and Phillip move to Burkburnett from the City View School District because the parents don't believe in school spankings.

Becky Chaney Times Record News

City View Principal Steve Harris visits a geometry class for 10th graders. Harris punishes offenses like untucked shirttails and midriff-skimming t-shirts with spankings.

Principal Steve Harris' discipline policy occasionally takes a whipping from parents.

At City View Junior/Senior High School, Harris punishes offenses like untucked shirttails and midriff-skimming T-shirts with spankings - and frequently without calling a parent first, said former City View parent Jean Merrill.

Merrill switched her daughter from City View to Rider High School last year after a rash of arguments with Harris over the unduly harsh policy, she said.

After receiving in-school suspension for wearing T-shirts that Harris said were unacceptable, Merrill's daughter eventually got a swat from Harris when a teacher asked her to change her shirt and she refused.

"I felt he was picking on my daughter," Merrill said.

Harris contends that when students dress right, their grades go up. He unapologetically enforces the City View dress code, he said.

"The philosophy is nothing fancy. I don't have any $500 vocabulary. These kids, we're trying to get them ready for the real world. They're not going to be able to get or hold a job if they can't represent themselves properly or get to work on time."

Any school with big problems isn't taking care of the little problems, Harris said. "If they were, they wouldn't snowball. We're very fundamental around here. There's actually one rule: the Do Right Rule. If you do right, you'll be OK. If you don't, it can be rough on you."

You can't always call parents before you swat, either, Harris said. "There are so many kids in the building, there's no possible way to call." Employers don't like parents getting constant calls at the workplace either, he said. Harris said he instructs his teachers to call parents and keep phone logs of all communication.

Harris agreed that dress code violations prompt many spankings at the school. Students choose between three days of in-school suspension or a swat for each infringement.

"They're treated with respect and dignity. They know why they're getting (a swat) when they get one," he said. "We're not trying to be mean to them. We're trying to get them trained for the real world. That is our job, and we take our job very serious. You simply can't have education without discipline first."

But it is that discipline drove Diane Hargis and her family out of the City View district for good, she said. She bought a home in Burkburnett to escape Harris' discipline style at the junior/senior high school.

When the school sent home its annual announcement about the corporal punishment policy that required a parent's signature, Hargis said she and her husband both signed a statement that the school was not allowed to touch either of their two sons, who were 11 and 15 then.

But then came the dress code infringements.

"They demand that everyone wears their shirt tucked in. They had teachers stand the children up in the classroom, and the teacher walked up and down checking shirts. This happened quite often, my children told me."

One day, the 15-year-old was sent to the principal's office for an untucked shirt. "He got a whipping, and there was no one else in the room with him," Hargis said.

One of City View's discipline rules is that someone is always present when the spanking is given.

"It was unreasonable at times," said Stephen Hargis, now 17. "He never had anybody in there." He described the spanking as "just enough to sting."

The spankings are a common occurrence at the school, Stephen Hargis said, something that just about everyone gets sometime. "It's mostly the dress code that everybody gets it for."

Harris said he added some options for dress code infringements this year. He gives students the option of changing into another shirt, borrowing one from a friend or asking their parents to bring another one. They may also don a T-shirt from his office that says, "I will dress for success tomorrow."

The office T-shirt comes with two swats.

City View counselor Cindy Leaverton, who has worked under Harris six years, said she admires his discipline and consistency. He's just one of seven principals she's served under during the past 29 years.

"You can't have a good discipline policy that you don't take flack for," she said Friday.

It's also frequently misunderstood, she said. "They don't understand that talking goes along with it. He feels it's better to get them back in class than sitting out in ISS."

Harris is a City View student's greatest supporter, she said. "Especially if they get in trouble outside of school, the first person they run to is him. He's bailed kids out of jail. He's talked to the judge for them. If may be the kid that's been in his office to be paddled, but they know he's there for them. That respect is hard to earn sometimes."

Harris said he instituted the strict policy partly because failure rates at City View when he arrived were approaching 47 percent. He polled teachers for the problem and found students weren't turning in homework, earning them zeros in the grade books.

"This is a problem we can fix!" he told his teachers. More than 600 zeros vanished from grade books as students began to complete their work. Passing rates rocketed to a high of 92 percent, Harris said.

Harris said the school is a safe one, with only two fights in four years. "Our kids get along," he said.

A few people may gripe, but hundreds more are staying put, Harris said. And there will always be people who don't like discipline, Harris said. "They're going to call and scream and holler. That's the nature of the beast. The ones who were unsure about my strict discipline policies are some of my biggest supporters, because they've seen the results."

Corpun file 12050

Florida Today, Melbourne, Florida, 23 September 2003

Brevard County School Board fires veteran teacher

Henderson denies hitting 2 children

By Kimberley C. Moore
Florida Today

VIERA -- Ruth Henderson's 44-year teaching career came to an end Tuesday night when the Brevard County School Board voted unanimously to fire the Cambridge Elementary School kindergarten teacher for hitting and shaking two of her students.

"I love working with children," Henderson said before the board voted to fire her. She denies ever harming any of her students.

Henderson began her teaching career in Brevard County in 1958, a time when corporal punishment by teachers was commonplace. She said she went into the profession at the urging of her father -- of the 12 children in her family, she and eight others became teachers. She has a master's degree in reading education and taught second and third grade her entire career until the fall of 2002, when she was assigned kindergarten.

"The kindergarten kids haven't learned a lot of classroom behavior," she said. "They're bringing their baby habits from home."

It is Brevard County Public School Policy not to administer any type of corporal punishment on any child. Criminal charges in the case were not pursued, according to Henderson's attorney.

School district documents show on Aug. 22 of last year, Henderson held a boy "by the arm and shook him as she placed him in the 'time out' chair, accidentally causing him to bump his head against a bookcase." A knot formed on the boy's head and his mother reported it to the school's principal, Sandra Brown.

Five days later, Henderson told another student to stay in the classroom as the other children left. She then "removed her sandal and spanked (the boy's) buttocks with the sandal." Another child told investigators he witnessed that incident through a window.

An administrative law judge found these allegations to be true. A third child said Henderson had slapped his face, but his testimony was not deemed credible.

Court records describe both the boys as "two of the most active and disruptive" in Henderson's class. Henderson's attorney said their testimony was not reliable because they could not demonstrate they knew the difference between the truth and a lie and there were inconsistencies in their stories.

All five members of the School Board said they felt terrible about having to let Henderson go because of the length of her service and her strong job performance.

"The findings of fact show she did act in a wrong manner, but because of her good record, to dismiss her after such a long and illustrious career is cruel and unusual punishment," said board member Bea Fowler, who requested that the board go with the recommendations of the administrative law judge and suspend Henderson for seven months. However, when Fowler learned that Henderson would receive her full pension if she was fired, she voted in favor of dismissing her.

"I was 2 years old when she started and I can tell you in Georgia there was corporal punishment and I got spanked myself," said board member Robert Jordan, who also said he did not want to fire Henderson. "I don't want anybody's career to end the way this woman's is ending, but our ultimate responsibility is to the children."

Their decision boiled down to the fact that "the reason we have rules is to set an example and abide by them," board member Rich Wilson said.

Henderson's attorney, Adrienne Trent, said she will appeal the board's decision with the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach.

Henderson continues to deny any wrongdoing. When asked why she had not retired yet, Henderson said she is working to put her two children through college after the death of her husband in 1998.

Copyright 2003 FLORIDA TODAY.

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