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Campaign Seeks to End Corporal Punishment in Schools

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By guest blogger Alyssa Morones

A new online campaign is calling on the U.S. Congress to pass a bill that would end the use of corporal punishment in schools.

The petition, from the campaign to Create Safe Schools for Children, is now online on causes.com and focuses on U.S. Representative Carolyn McCarthy's (D-NY) bill that seeks to ban corporal punishment nationwide.

Rep. McCarthy first introduced the bill in the 111th Congress and again in 2011 in the 112th Congress. Ms. McCarthy, a senior Democratic member of the education and workforce committee, is currently working on a new draft of the bill to introduce to the current 113th Congress.

"We're working with a couple of groups on drafting a refreshed version of the legislation," said Steven Ettannani, the legislative director for the congresswoman. The bill will be updated to incorporate new facts and studies pertaining to corporal punishment in schools, though its effects would largely be the same—to end corporal punishment as a disciplinary practice in public schools.

As my earlier story for Education Week notes, corporal punishment is still allowed in 19 states, most of them in the South. At present, no federal policy exists on the issue.

In the 1977 case Ingraham v. Wright, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the issue of corporal punishment should be left to the states. The case argued that Florida's policy of permitting corporal punishment in school violated students' rights under the Eighth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment, and their 14th Amendment rights to "procedural due process." The High Court upheld Florida's policy, reasoning that the students had been provided due process and that the Eighth Amendment didn't apply to them, because it was intended to protect convicted criminals.

Rep. McCarthy's bill would not federally outlaw corporal punishment. Rather, according to Ettannani, the bill would prohibit the U.S. Department of Education from providing any federal funding to educational institutions that allow corporal punishment. The bill would also allow the federal government to distribute grants intended to improve school climate, which schools allowing corporal punishment would not be eligible to receive.

Ettannani said Ms. McCarthy sees corporal punishment in schools as unacceptable.

"It's something that doesn't add to the educational environment and doesn't lead to students performing any better in schools," said Ettannani.  The congresswoman "believes that this is a realistic ask of folks, once members are convinced that this is a real issue, specifically those that live in the North, those who have not lived with this growing up who think this is an issue of the past."

In January this year, the U.S. departments of Education and Justice issued new guidance on how school leaders can draft discipline policies that do not discriminate against any racial or ethnic groups. It clarifies how districts can meet their obligations under Title IV and Title VI of the federal government's 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Federal data on corporal punishment reveals that the discipline policy disproportionately affects African-American and male students.

There has been some change at the district level, though. In North Carolina, 99 districts across the state have banned corporal punishment and its use in schools has dropped dramatically, from 891 times in the 2010-11 school year to 404 the following year. Districts that previously used corporal punishment are now opting for alternative forms of disciplinary action.

For more information on corporal punishment, alternative discipline methods, and how one newly merged school district moved away from the practice, you can listen to my webinar here.

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