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Schools Still Use Corporal Punishment to Discipline Students

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While more school districts and states are banning the use of corporal punishment, the discipline method is far from being extinct in America's public schools, according to a story published Tuesday in Education Week.

A survey of 60,000 schools by the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights found that 223,190 students were physically punished  in American schools in 2006. (That figure is roughly equal to the population of Scottsdale, Ariz.)

A disproportionate percentage of African-American and male students were paddled. The data showed that 35.6 percent of the students receiving corporal punishment were African-American—that's more than double the percentage of black students (17.1 percent) included in the 2006 survey. Boys made up 78.3 percent of the students who were physically disciplined.

According to the Center for Effective Discipline, a nonprofit based in Columbus, Ohio, that provides educational information on corporal punishment and alternatives to its use, corporal punishment is a legal form of discipline in 19 states, most of them in the South. In 2004, 22 states permitted the practice at schools. 

The Oct. 22 story, written by Alyssa Morones, shows how corporal punishment continues to be debated nationwide. In Marion County, Fla., which is about 90 minutes northwest of Orlando, Fla., the school board recently reinstated paddling, against the superintendent's wishes. 

"When students receive out-of-school suspension, they miss out on instruction time, and the teacher is not obligated in any way to help that student catch up," said Carol Ely, a Marion County School Board member. The former teacher added, in the article: "In elementary school, that's like a vacation. That's not a punishment."

But George D. Tomyn, the superintendent of the 42,000-student district, told Morones that counseling and an in-school suspension program are being used to discipline students more effectively. Tomyn, a former assistant principal in the district, has paddled students.

"Our three options then were paddling, suspension, or expulsion," he said in the story. "We paddled way too many students, and we suspended and expelled way too many students."

While proponents of corporal punishment are quick to draw from their own experiences of being spanked at home or paddled at school in the past, those interviewed for the story say times, and more importantly America's children, have changed.

Tara C. Ford, the founder and legal director of Pegasus Legal Services for Children, in Albuquerque, who successfully lobbied New Mexico's legislature to ban corporal punishment in 2011, said that in getting the legislation passed, "one of the things that was important was the recognition that families should decide what kind of discipline their children get, particularly around physical discipline."

My parents spanked their three daughters when we didn't behave, although truth be told, the discipline method was used less frequently on me—the youngest child. I do have a vivid memory of being forced to eat Ivory soap as a punishment for using a swear word to describe my sister. However, the awful taste of soap didn't truly curb my use of colorful language. (Well, maybe around my parents it did.)

Today, as the parent of two young African-American boys, I can't imagine a scenario in which I would allow a teacher or principal physically discipline them. But could I be mistaken?

What do parents, especially those who permit their school's staff to paddle their child, believe is the best way to discipline students at school?

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