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The Supreme Court and Corporal Punishment

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Four years ago on Wednesday, Jessica Serafin was paddled by her San Antonio charter school principal for breaking a school rule.

Serafin was just a few days past her 18th birthday, making her an adult, and she says in court papers she did not consent to being struck three times by a wooden paddle called "Ole Thunder" after she went off campus to buy breakfast. She sued the school, but has lost so far.

Corporal punishment in schools remains legal in 22 states, according to court papers filed on behalf of the charter school, the School of Excellence in Education.

On Thursday, in a private conference, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to revisit the legal issues surrounding corporal punishment in schools for the first time in more than 30 years. The court could announce as soon as June 23 whether it will hear the former student's appeal in Serafin v. School of Excellence in Education (Case No. 07-9760).

The case hasn't attracted much notice, partly because it is on the Supreme Court's pauper's docket.

Serafin says in court papers that when principal Brett Wilkinson sought to paddle her on that day in June 2004, she asked to withdraw herself from the school instead. Her request was refused, and two school employees helped restrain Serafin while the principal began paddling her. After the first strike, Serafin freed one of her hands, which was struck by the paddle. The principal allegedly told her, "That hit didn't count," and he struck her again, according to the former student's account. Serafin called her mother and left the school after the paddling, which left her buttocks bleeding and her hand swollen, according to court papers. She was treated at a hospital emergency room.

The school filed a response to Serafin's appeal only after the Supreme Court requested one, which is a sign that at least one of the justices is looking at the appeal with interest.

The school points out in its papers that when Serafin enrolled in the school, she was a minor and her guardian signed standard school forms that included one authorizing school officials to use corporal punishment. The court papers say Serafin had been paddled before, and that despite having turned 18, the student knew she was subject to the school's discipline as long as she was enrolled. The school's court papers also say that Serafin's injuries were "minor and temporary," and her hand would not have been hurt if she had not tried to block the paddle.

Serafin's lawsuit cited several state and federal claims, including assault and battery, negligence, false imprisonment, and violations of her 14th Amendment rights to due process and equal protection of the law. A U.S. district court dismissed her federal claims. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, in New Orleans, ruled against Serafin in October 2007.

In a unanimous decision by the three-judge panel, the appeals court said it was well settled in the 5th Circuit that "corporal punishment of public school students is only a deprivation of substantive due process rights when it is arbitrary, capricious, or wholly unrelated to the legitimate state goal of maintaining an atmosphere conducive to learning."

In her appeal to the Supreme Court, Serafin presents two questions. First, she asks whether an adult student has a greater right than a child to be free from corporal punishment. And second, she asks if the time come for the justices to decide whether students of any age have "substantive due process" rights when a public school applies excessive corporal punishment.

The appeal does not question the overall legality of corporal punishment in schools, but it contends that students should have stronger protection of the type known as substantive due process, which protects against arbitrary and unreasonable governmental conduct affecting fundamental constitutional liberties.

In its 1977 ruling in Ingraham v. Wright, the Supreme Court held 5-4 that the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments did not apply to corporal punishment in schools, and that the 14th Amendment's due-process clause did not require notice and a hearing before imposing such punishment. The court said state common-law remedies satisfied the procedural due-process requirement, and it declined to consider substantive due-process concerns over corporal punishment.

"We are reviewing here a legislative judgment, rooted in history and reaffirmed in the laws of many States, that corporal punishment serves important educational interests," the late Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. said for the majority in Ingraham.

11 Comments

It's shameful that issues such as corporal punishment will be decided on a matter that involves shear stupidity. The principle "paddled" an 18-year-old girl who tried to block it. Unbelievable that the principle is this dense, and that two people had to "restrain" her. This case is flawed because it's not testing corporal discipline of a minor where the issues are clear, it'll be tainted by the school's lack of judgment, the girl's age and her attempts to fight off the principle's efforts.

It's amazing that corporal punishment still exsists and that they would attempt on an 18 year old girl!

whether that was wrong of right, I had bro wilkinson as a teacher and he is the best teacher and my favorite, so i can't help but think she got what she had coming

I can't believe the issue of the girl's "bleeding buttocks" wasn't addressed with a great deal of interest! This type of punishment, especially on an 18-year-old, seems so barbaric and I wonder why it is still legal. Spanking should be reserved for young children for whom it is necessary to associate bad behavior with bad consequences. Older children should be disciplined the way adults would be disciplined by a judge.

I believe in discipline and my children behaving in school. I send them there for an educaation not to be baby sat. But I and my wife will deal out the discipline. If a teacher puts their hand on my child and the courts do not want to do anything about it I will !!! That teacher better leave the state. Because I will take that paddle and stick it where the sun don't shine. With my background there is no doubt in my mind I can do that. Then we will home school our child. I only believe in physical punishment from the parents and only in situations requiring it. How do I know the mindset of some idiot Principal. Like I said he or she will be bleeding in the ER !

The 14th amendment says, "no state shall . . . deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." It does not reserve equal protection for people over a certain age. It applies to "any person." Hitting a person is assault, is illegal, and punishable. Exempting anyone of any age from equal protection is in conflict with the 14th amendment equal protection clause. Obviously, the problem is that our culture has not evolved sufficiently to respect the rights of children. There are many other examples of this. We suffer individually and collectively for this double standard that other countries understand.

I read many stories about a similar incident that happened in Caddo Mills High School, located in Caddo Mills Texas.

A young student of that school (Walden) was beaten so bad by the principal, Mr. Brian McKamy that it left bruises and welts on his butt. McKamy hit the boy so hard that it made him fall to his knees and the principal pulled him up by his belt loops and continued beating him. If that’s not bad enough, the principal is still there today and treating the students in the same manner that he treat that young man. Can anyone explain how this could happen?

What has gotten into these schools today? I find it so hard to believe that in today’s schools, this act of violence and assault is still happening. Every country in the world has banned corporal punishment in the schools, why can we? Are we that far behind in the times? Why can’t our children just go to school and learn instead of being subjected to the humiliation, embarrassment that only corporal punishment brings.

Leave it to Texas to fuck up something as simple as assault and battery. I'm truly sorry for you Jessica. You probably should have filed your complain in state court where your case wouldn't turn on the question of whether it was a violation of federal rights (which in fact, it was).

Shame on you 5th Circuit. You clearly don't know your ass from a hole in the ground. The question is not whether she consented to attending school, but whether she consented to assault and battery. She didn't. You're idiots.

New thought on Jessica Serafin case: old enough (18) to quit school (drop out) legally; old enough to vacate premises at will. She never returned to that school in full use of her right not to.

Her being held down to be paddled therefore may be seen at the state prosecution level as an unauthorized punishment -- the school was not operating "in loco parentis" from the moment she insisted on leaving. Anytime a student is corporeally punished without authority it should be prosecuted as an criminal assault under the normal statutes.

Being criminally detained to be physically assaulted raises the issue of kidnapping/illegal detainment (there are so many legal pitfalls once you cross the line of assaulting with a weapon).

LAST THOUGHT: the school had no more legal power to hold her down and beat her when she expressed desire to vacate the premises than it would have had to visit her home or grab her on the street and beat her. Whatever legal power the school has to beat students does not exist under these three circumstances.

SEXUAL TORTURE

A woman's buttocks are genitals; i.e., external sex organs. Smashing a woman's genitals with a four-foot-long board is nothing less than sexual torture.

A woman's buttocks and the upper third of the backs of her thighs contain sexually sensitive nerve endings. Those nerve endings are naturally stimulated during dorso-ventral copulation (rear-entry sexual intercourse). The stimulation of those nerve endings causes nerve impulses to be transmitted directly to her clitoris, thereby providing some of the stimulation that triggers an orgasm. Her orgasm includes rhythmic contractions of her vagina and those contractions can pump a male's ejaculated semen from her vagina to her uterus, increasing the probability of conception and, eventually, childbirth.

Violently striking a woman's genitals can cause the formation of neurological connections that teach a woman to associate violent assault with sexual stimulation. The formation of such connections is nothing less than a form of neurological sabotage and psychosexual mutilation.

Jessica was beaten bloody with a four-foot-long board. The U.S. Supreme Court has approved that attack. That attack was disgusting, barbaric, and completely legal. Welcome to America!

Sounds like a simple case of Assault. No one has the right to restrain and beat a student against their will. Southern States...who would've guessed!

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