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School CP - March 1986

Corpun file 7050 at


The Houston Chronicle, Texas, 5 March 1986

Cullen school paddling common

By Susan Warren

Cullen Middle School has a chronic discipline problem, and sometimes it takes a hefty swing of a board to make the kids settle down and learn.

At the southeast Houston school, paddling has become a way of life: for students, for parents, for teachers and administrators.

It's the only way, say some teachers, to make the youngsters settle down. To make them do their homework, get to class on time. To make them learn.

But another said: "This isn't the way a school ought to be."

Paddling has gotten out of hand at Cullen Middle School, insiders say. District policy on corporal punishment is ignored -- the school has its own rules. A seeming nonchalance about the subject among parents makes the problem even worse, one former teacher said.

"When you call the same parent three or four times and they just say 'beat his ass,' eventually you beat his ass. And it works. It's terrible. I hate to even hear myself saying that," she said, her voice strained, rising a pitch. It is an emotional issue for those who have been there.

Another former Cullen teacher, John Taylor, says the students themselves sometimes recommend paddling as a method of discipline.

"I used to ask my students how I could calm them down, and invariably 80 or 90 percent would say, 'Pop 'em, Mr. Taylor. Pop 'em, pop 'em. You're not popping enough, Mr. Taylor,'" he said. Taylor transferred two years ago to a HISD high school.

Cullen Principal Joe Martel and Assistant Principal Vera Johnson were not permitted by district officials to comment on the discipline situation at their school.

Houston Independent School District spokeswoman Rosalind Young said discipline records turned in by Cullen indicate only three cases of paddling reported at the school so far this year. She said Martel acknowledges the real number is higher, but he does not know how much higher. Last year, the school reported 33 paddlings. Cullen teachers, however, indicate the real numbers are far higher than those reported.

Reports of paddling fluctuate wildly among HISD middle schools, ranging last year from zero to 2,147 incidents at various schools. One teacher union president called the reporting of paddlings a joke in the district.

Cullen Middle School is in a poor section of southeast Houston off Scott Street. About 95 percent of its 1,200 students are black, many from low-income households.

But Cullen isn't alone among schools in the Houston Independent School District with severe discipline problems. Though the situation there is bad, it is as bad or worse at many other middle schools in the district, teachers and administrators say.

"I don't think Cullen is any different from any other middle school with HISD that deals with the same kind of kid -- a disadvantaged kid. These aren't your kids from Bellaire," a Cullen teacher said. Teachers interviewed who now work at Cullen requested their names not be used.

Teachers at Cullen said paddlings are seldom reported because the school office doesn't pressure teachers to turn in the paddling report slips. "There are abuses (of corporal punishment) on a daily basis," a teacher said.

Teachers, former teachers and students at Cullen confirmed incidents of students being paddled for offenses as trivial as forgetting to bring homework, being late to class or bouncing a ball in the hallway, none of which, HISD policy says, are valid reasons for paddling.

Teachers said students often are paddled in groups of three or more, with no witness as required by board policy. People not authorized to paddle are wielding a board against the students. Few, if any, of the paddlings are reported as required.

"We walked the halls with boards in our hands," Taylor said. "We popped -- not indiscriminately -- for petty offenses."

Many HISD schools permit paddling only by the school's principal or vice principal -- Cullen policy allows teachers to paddle. Several of those teachers said it is the only control they have in a school with one of the most severe discipline problems in the district.

"The first year I'd come home sick after hitting children," Taylor said. "But after eight years, I got used to it. It was what you had to do. I felt it was the only thing they listened to."

Most teachers interviewed put most of the responsibility for the discipline problems on parents and the school's administration.

"What you need is an administration that has a set of rules, guidelines, that they are going to follow. You need parents that discipline the kids, which you don't have," said Donna Krupa, a former Cullen teacher who transferred out of the school last year.

"When you're a teacher, you no more want to pull that board out and put it on the child's butt any more than you want to do it to your own kid. But when your job is on the line, and you are trying to teach these kids something, and the administration doesn't back you up, then you have no choice," she said.

A Cullen teacher protested that paddling at the school should not be considered inappropriate just because it breaks with district policy.

"The district adopts rules, and they don't even know what they're making the rules for," a Cullen teacher said. "They're making rules that can't be applied. You have to do what works in your world."

The only thing that works in Cullen's world, he says, is paddling.

Every student at Cullen knows about Hall Sweep -- a method devised to prevent tardiness at the school. Taylor described Hall Sweep like this:

"When the bell rang, the teachers locked their doors and the men were to go out in the hall with their boards and either hit (the kids) and put them back in their room or guide them to the cafeteria where they were popped and then given permission to get back in class.

"Unfortunately, it worked. There were definitely fewer tardies after that," he said.

Four Cullen teachers and numerous students gave similar accounts of Hall Sweeps.

On Feb. 25, Alfred Jones, 13, was caught walking in the Cullen halls during class time. He was given three pops by a person not authorized to give pops under district policy.

"I just had got to school. I told (the employee), but he just said you're supposed to have a pass," Alfred said, describing the incident.

"(The employee)'s got a fiberglass paddle. I'm talking about big fiberglass -- fiberglass that'll kill you. It hurts. I'm telling you, it was the second-worst pop I ever got. The worst was the first time I went to Cullen and I didn't know which class to go to. That was the worst time."

Alfred also spoke of the same school employee forcing him and other students to do push-ups on the floor of the boys restroom when they were caught in minor offenses.

"Everybody gets popped by him," the seventh-grader said. "Because they be late or fighting, or they be cussing or in the bathroom smoking dope or bouncing basketballs in the hall."

On Jan. 30, a teacher took about 12 students into the hallway for pops after they forgot to bring a newspaper article to class.

Leslie Pierre, 11, was one of those students.

"Some kids got popped who just brought a itty bitty article," Leslie said. He said the students were given three pops each, in a group and in front of each other. There was no witness to the paddling.

"There is a lot of brutality going on," a Cullen teacher said. "My concern is that the children are being brutalized, and becoming insensitive to it. It's got to the point where they expect it and don't feel that it's unusual."

A case in point might be Montanya Charles, 13, one of several students popped by a teacher Feb. 27 for not doing her homework. She said she saw nothing wrong with the practice.

"I thought it was right, because the majority of students don't do their homework. Because, ever since she popped that day, a lot of kids do their homework," she said.

"You gotta paddle," Montanya said. "It's a lot of bad ones at my school."

Signa Segrest, president of the Houston Teachers Association, said she has received more complaints from her teachers at Cullen than almost any other school.

"There is a general recognition by everyone over there that some things have got to change," she said.

Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said Cullen has a long tradition of discipline problems.

"Corporal punishment is a principal's option," Fallon said. "It varies according to the attitudes of the principal. While the teacher is responsible for discipline in the classroom, the level of discipline is going to be determined by the administrator in charge of the campus," she said.

One Cullen teacher grew angry and frustrated in trying to explain the situation at the school.

"It's not your average middle class experience," the teacher said. "To really understand Cullen, you have to go in there and see what the problems are. People will read this in the newspaper and they're going to make all kinds of judgments, and they're probably all wrong."

"I would like to see corporal punishment abolished," Krupa said. "But I don't want to see teachers giving up. Because there is absolutely nothing else that worked there. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believed it.

"Yes," said Krupa. "It is wrong to abuse corporal punishment, and it is being abused. The guidelines are not being followed. It's obvious. But if you don't have that, then what happens? Those kids aren't going to go to class on time just because they're supposed to. It's just not going to happen.

"It's sad. It's really sad. It is."

Corpun file 7048 at


The Houston Chronicle, Texas, 6 March 1986

Paddlings spur warning to teachers

By Susan Warren

The principal of Cullen Middle School says he will take his teachers "to task" for breaking district policy in paddling students -- though teachers have blamed a weak administration for much of Cullen's discipline problem.

Principal Joe Martel said corporal punishment has been misused at Cullen and that he has already reprimanded specific teachers who paddled students for offenses -- such as forgetting homework -- not covered under district policy.

He said he will remind all teachers again of the rules and regulations regarding paddling at a faculty meeting Wednesday, and will begin a stricter enforcement of those rules.

"That's an old song," one Cullen teacher said. "This has been going on forever. Now maybe for two or three days it will get better, but then it will go back. It's too pervasive."

Earlier this week, several teachers said one reason they have had to paddle students is because they do not receive support from Cullen's administration.

Current teachers at Cullen requested that their names not be used.

Inconsistency in the way punishment is meted out makes a bad discipline problem even worse, teachers said.

"Every teacher in this building has always been supported by the administration," he said. "I always backed up my teachers. We work with them on all their discipline."

But a Cullen teacher said, "Day to day, (Martel) turns his back. As long as you aren't caught (misusing corporal punishment ), it's fine with him. But if you're caught, he's not going to defend you."

Martel said his administration is consistent with the Houston Independent School District's Code of Student Conduct, but that having three administrators means certain things might be done differently.

Several teachers, former teachers and students at the southeast Houston school have defended paddling and said it has become the only effective means of controlling the students.

Often that has meant students are paddled for trivial offenses such as forgetting homework, tardiness or bouncing a ball in a hallway.

Teachers and students said paddling has become so commonplace that teachers forgo witnesses and no longer fill out the discipline cards required by HISD for every case of corporal punishment.

Martel said he will crack down on teachers not turning in the cards and make sure they are filled out in the future. But a teacher responded: "He hasn't even given us the forms to fill out. We don't even know what they look like."

Only three paddlings have been reported this school year, but the real numbers are far higher, Cullen teachers said.

HISD Superintendent Billy Reagan dismissed the situation described by teachers and students at Cullen as "hearsay."

"It is grossly unfair to indict any institution on hearsay," Reagan said Wednesday. He said he would need "evidence" before the HISD administration got involved in the Cullen situation, but that HISD would not investigate to collect such evidence.

"No one has brought to me any complaints about the school," he said. "I'm asking that the facts be brought forth."

While acknowledging misuse of corporal punishment, Martel said he does not believe paddling is "overused" at Cullen.

Hall Sweeps -- under which all students caught in a hallway after the tardy bell rings are automatically paddled -- will continue, but under more controlled circumstances, he said.

"We are going to make sure (the paddled students) are habitual offenders, and the parents will be contacted before they are popped," he said. HISD policy allows paddling students only as a last resort for repeated offenses.

Parents, however, are one of the biggest complaints of teachers and administrators at Cullen.

"You have never seen a difficult parent until you have seen a difficult parent at Cullen," Martel said.

He said the only thing that will really solve the discipline problems is a change in the attitudes of the parents and neighborhood residents.

"I need more help first from the parents in the community," he said. "That is the most important thing.

"Paddling in the home is the quickest way to solve a problem," said Martel, explaining the attitudes of parents who encourage teachers to paddle their children. "In many cases in these low socioeconomic neighborhoods, this is the way it is.

"Black people are going to have to organize," said Martel, a black. "We need some pride -- pride in dress, pride in work, pride in punctuality, that's the basic thing. That's what I tell the kids." About 95 percent of Cullen's 1,200 students are black.

Though most of Cullen students want to do their work, Martel said, many "are doing everything they can not to get an education.

"I'm the first person to say 'Do away with paddles, let's burn them all.'

"But you have to give me something in return. I have to have an alternative to control the kids."

Corpun file 7045 at


The Houston Chronicle, Texas, 7 March 1986

'Better to get a pop'

Here are a few of the responses Cullen Middle School social studies teacher Roberto Centeno received this week when he asked his students what they thought about paddling:

"They should keep on popping so that maybe we can have some peace here. We should be thankful because these teachers are concerned about our learning."

"I think they should keep popping because it helps us. Some of us just don't care."

"I don't like pops because I not happy."

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Teachers wouldn't want you to pop them if they did something wrong. If they get respect then we should get respect."

"It is better to get a pop than to get sent home or the guidance center. I want pops!!!"

"I don't like to be given pops because they hurt a lot and my mother did not give permission. She doesn't pop me and you people hit me without being given permission. Did you hear or are you deaf?"

"I know we should get popped. Popping is fun."

"I know of a teacher who's very old, and children run over her. The teacher is very kind but there's no learning going on. She doesn't pop or anything. This teacher is a disgrace to HISD."

"I think we should get pops because we need to learn how to respect teachers."

"I think we should get pops because that's the only way students will understand what grown-ups really mean."

Corpun file 7047 at


The Houston Chronicle, Texas, 7 March 1986

Most wanted paddlings, teacher says

By Susan Warren

Two-thirds of students at Cullen Middle School polled by a teacher said they not only approved of teachers paddling students, but they wanted it.

Cullen Middle School has a severe discipline problem, and Cullen teachers have said that paddling is the only way they can make their students settle down and learn. The teachers defended their use of paddling -- often carried out in violation of district policy -- by saying the attitudes of parents and students demand it.

Social studies teacher Roberto Centeno polled his sixth grade students this week to ask their opinions on corporal punishment. He sent a copy of the children's responses to the Houston Independent School District Board of Trustees and to school Principal Joe Martel.

In the poll, 40 students came out clearly in favor of teachers paddling students. 20 were against it.

"Paddling," said one 6th grader, "is the only way students will understand what grown-ups really mean."

Most students in favor of paddling said children need it. Because, one said, if you cut out "pops," students would "be in the halls smoking, drinking, and Cullen would be a disgrace."

Other students said a teacher has to wield a paddle to earn the respect of their students. A student described a teacher who was old and kind but did not pop and so had no control over her students. "This teacher is a disgrace to HISD," the student wrote.

Another argument given by students in favor of paddling was that it is quicker than suspensions or detentions, and allows them to avoid punishment at home.

Many students made remarks such as "I like catching pops," "Pops are fun," and "Pops are good for kids."

But these comments are hardly surprising, says Ada Maurer, a child psychologist who heads a California group called End Violence Against The Next Generation.

"The children have learned their lesson well. That's what adults have told them, so they are reciting the lesson that they have been taught," Maurer said.

Maurer said studies that have tracked students from schools where corporal punishment is permitted to one where it is not have shown that students' opinions toward paddling will change when their environment changes.

"Those children would turn around," she said of the Cullen students, "the minute their school situation changed, their opinions would change, too. You would never get such a statement from a child who attends a non-paddling school."

Dr. Jay Tarnow, a child and family psychiatrist who serves as director of the Houston Child Guidance Center, said the Cullen students are basically responding to a feeling that things are out of control.

"Basically," said Tarnow, "I think the children are saying that they have difficulty in controlling themselves. And they are looking for an outside source to contain them."

Corporal punishment, said Tarnow, only teaches students that people resort to violent means to solve problems. Students who commented that paddling teaches respect are basing their opinion on a lack of respect for adults, and lack of training in the home, he said.

"You respect someone for their positions because they're an adult, a parent, and because those are the rules, not because they use brute force on you," he said.

Students who opposed paddling in Centeno's poll said they did not believe paddling was fair or effective, and that often students were paddled who shouldn't be.

"Some students do deserve to get popped, and some don't," one wrote. "The problem is, do the teachers know which are which?"

At least two said they felt that if students are popped for being wrong, then teachers should be popped for being wrong, too.

While these students were reacting to the issue of corporal punishment in a class exercise, Principal Joe Martel responded to articles in the Houston Chronicle describing Cullen's discipline problem by sending out a memo to Cullen faculty thanking them for their support and "kind words."

Martel on Wednesday had said he would take his teachers "to task" for misuses of corporal punishment in the school. Several teachers and students have described widespread cases of teachers breaking district policy when paddling students.

Martel said he had reprimanded specific teachers for some incidents, and that he would be cracking down on things like teachers filling out the required discipline cards when they paddle students.

But the Thursday memo took on a much different attitude from the one Martel had shown on Wednesday.

Martel described some of the school's recent academic achievements in his memo, saying "It is difficult for me to conceive of a way in which we could have made the academic gains indicated... if we truly have the kind of undisciplined, abusive environment the Houston Chronicle suggests."

Martel also told Cullen faculty that a reporter had refused invitations to come out to Cullen.

"It is difficult to deal with an individual who refuses to visit our school and take note of the many positive things which are happening here each day."

Before publishing the first article concerning Cullen Middle School, a reporter requested permission to visit the campus to talk with Martel, Assistant Principal Vera Johnson and several other school employees.

Martel on Tuesday refused to speak until he had permission from the HISD administration. HISD officials refused to grant that permission, saying they had no reason to comment since they had received no official complaints against the school.

On Wednesday, the day the article was published, Martel was permitted to speak to the Chronicle, and said he would be meeting with teachers to review the district guidelines for corporal punishment.

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