POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Support for corporal punishment in schools waning

·6 min read

Jun. 26—Many adults can look back on their childhood and remember a time or two when they were paddled for something they weren't supposed to do. But as society has progressed, social norms have changed, and the practice is not as widely acceptable as it once was.

Recently, several members of Congress called for banning corporal punishment in schools that receive federal funding.

In February, a group of Democrats introduced the Ban Corporal Punishment in Schools Act, which would also establish a private right of action for students to sue over the practice, and giving advocacy programs the authority to investigate, monitor, and enforce protections for students.

More than 90,000 students were subjected to corporal punishment in the 2015-2016 academic year. Today, the practice is legal in only 19 states, including Oklahoma. However, it's not common among schools in Cherokee County.

Tahlequah Public Schools Superintendent Leon Ashlock said TPS doesn't use the punishment at any grade level.

"I asked other administrators who have been here longer than me, and our best guess is that it has not been used for at least the past 13 years at TPS," he said.

Sequoyah High School and the Cherokee Nation Immersion School don't use corporal punishment, either. Meanwhile, the practice is still available to use at Keys Public Schools, but very seldom is it used. Keys Superintendent Vol Woods said it's probably been five years since a student was spanked.

"It's up to the principals, and both principals always seem to find another way to change the behavior without having to resort to corporal punishment," Woods said.

Some folks believe paddling or spanking as a form of punishment, or way to modify undesirable behavior, is part of growing up and can be effective when used under certain conditions. However, a growing number of people equate it to assault. According to state statutes, school district personnel are prohibited from using corporal punishment on students identified with the most significant cognitive disabilities. The Oklahoma Legislature passed the law in 2017, but the subject hasn't been revisited since.

State Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, a longtime educator and administrator, said the practice was prevalent his first 15 years working in schools.

"If a parent signed a release that allowed their child to have corporal punishment, it had to be given in the office in a private setting with a witness," he said. "When I first started, you didn't have to have a witness. It could be administered right outside the classroom in a hallway. So it's evolved."

There was a push in the '90s by Oklahoma State Board of Education officials, including former State Superintendent Sandy Garrett, to end the practice. In 1992, the State Board of Education passed a two-year moratorium on the use of corporal punishment in public schools.

Pemberton said the practice was eliminated at Hilldale High School when he worked there in the mid-2000s, and it was never used when he worked for Muskogee Public Schools.

"I thought it was effective for some kids, but some kids it doesn't affect at all," he said. "I've seen some kids take a paddling and laugh it off, and others get paddled once and you'd never see them in the office again. I don't think there's any question there's some effectiveness to it, but I think the time for corporal punishment has pretty much passed in this country."

State Rep. Bob Ed Culver, R-Tahlequah, said he wished paddling had been banned when he was in school, because he would have been able to sit down a lot easier on a few occasions. As for whether a statewide ban should be enacted, he said he hasn't spoken with enough educators to form an opinion.

"I think there's probably other ways to handle it," he said. "My wife taught for 29 years and I can't remember her sending anyone to the principal for a paddling."

While many states have banned the board, it's largely up to individual districts whether to use corporal punishment. Many people believe that's where the decisions should be made, anyway.

"There are good-faith disagreements about corporal punishment and appropriateness," said Cherokee County Libertarian Party Chair Shannon Grimes. "It is certainly a topic that parents and school boards can figure out at the local school district level."

Other ways for children to be disciplined don't involve physical pain, and what works for one student might not work for another. Cherokee County Republican Party Chair Josh Owen said that's something people need to take into account.

"I don't want to speak on behalf of all Republicans in Cherokee County, but personally, it was definitely used on me where I grew up and went to high school, and I think I turned out pretty good," he said. "I would probably say it has a place, but not every kid learns that way. I think we're getting to the point where people understand that not every child is the same, and you kind of have to give punishment and rewards based on the individual child."

In a Facebook Saturday Forum on June 19, the Daily Press asked readers for their thoughts on corporal punishment. The responses were fairly even, with some readers saying it can be effective, and others saying paddlings or spankings should never be the answer.

Michael Cummings said he had his feet lifted off the floor a number of times.

"The key to spankings as punishment is they cannot be administered by someone who is angry, be it parent or teacher," he said. "If used properly, it's effective."

Will Carpenter questioned why young people are allowed to be spanked, but not adults.

"If you smacked an adult with a wooden paddle, you would be charged with assault, but for some reason, it's OK to do it to kids?" he asked.

Millen Kremmer said the form of punishment is in a "weird middle area for schools."

"It can be effective to get rid of unwanted behavior if applied, but it can cause other underlying issues if done incorrectly or from a place of anger or spite," Kremmer wrote.

In an online website poll, TDP readers were asked what they think about corporal punishment in public schools. Of the respondents, 34.3 percent "conditionally approve, depending on the case"; 30.4 percent percent "totally approve"; 28.4 percent "totally disapprove"; and 6.9 percent "disapprove in all but extreme cases."

Dell Barnes, Cherokee County Democratic Party vice chair, could not be reached by press time.

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To see more comments on corporal punishment in schools, go to www.facebook.com/tdpress and scroll down to the June 19 Saturday Forum.

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