Some Florida lawmakers want to tighten up the rules that currently allows teachers and other school staff members to strike kids for misbehaving.
A bill filed by Rep. Katherine Waldron (D-Palm Beach) would prohibit anyone except a principal from applying corporal punishment in a public or charter school and would ban the practice altogether for children with special needs, homeless students or kids placed in alternative schools.
For other students, Waldron’s bill would require a permission slip to be signed and kept on file, and for administrators to explain their decision to resort to physical punishment in writing.
Waldron’s bill was filed a week and a half after 4th graders at an Orlando private school accused a church pastor of walking into their classroom and beating them three times each with his belt, with the class teacher supervising.
A police investigation into the incident is ongoing. Florida’s corporal punishment laws do not apply to private schools. Corporal punishment was not in the Orlando school’s handbook of acceptable discipline practices.
“I know that [the Orlando] parents are very outraged, and they should be,” Waldron said. “It should eventually be banned completely, because there’s no study out there that says corporal punishment promotes healthy, compassionate, successful adults.”
Waldron said her bill was already in the works when that happened. She credited a team of University of Florida students, led by junior Graham Bernstein, for approaching her.
Bernstein said he took an interest in the subject after hearing about a 2021 incident when a 6-year-old was paddled for damaging a computer in front of a parent who couldn’t speak English, and learning corporal punishment was often disproportionately used on disabled children.
“What you see is a total perversion of parental rights,” he said, calling his proposal “balanced.”
Waldron said she was working on getting a state senator on board, and she expected a Republican to file a companion bill in the upper chamber, making the effort bipartisan. It would fit with the wave of “parents rights” bills the conservative supermajority passed in early 2023, despite it already being far less controversial.
“There are 63 countries in the world that completely ban hitting children, and the U.S. is not one,” she explained. “I think that’s something that we should aspire towards, and this is maybe a step in the right direction.”