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Apodaca: Corporal punishment should be history

October 20, 2012|By Patrice Apodaca

Until recently, I had assumed that corporal punishment in schools was a thing of the past, a practice relegated to the dustbin of history by a more enlightened modern culture that views the "spare the rod, spoil the child" method of childrearing as a misguided anachronism.

Turns out I was wrong. Indeed, the issue of spanking in schools is undergoing some increased scrutiny of late due to some highly publicized cases popping up around the country.

To be clear, corporal punishment in schools is illegal in California, as it is in 30 other states.

But 19 states still allow physical punishment of students, and more than 200,000 children a year are subjected to it, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

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In some of these states, enforcement policies are left up to individual districts, resulting in extremely uneven application of the practice. Rules vary, for instance, regarding whether schools must obtain parental permission before administering the punishment.

One recent incident that's sparking debate on the topic involved the spanking of a 15-year-old girl by a male vice principal in Texas, where corporal punishment in schools is legal.

The student's mother had initially consented to the penalty after school officials found that the girl had let a classmate copy her homework.

However, the mother later protested to the local school board that the spanking with a wooden paddle had gone too far, painfully blistering the girl's bottom. It also violated district policy that such punishments may only be delivered by school employees of the same gender as the student.

Another highly publicized case arose last year in Florida, where corporal punishment in schools is also legal and legislative attempts to ban the practice have failed to gain traction. A 5-year-old boy was paddled at his elementary school for rowdy behavior on a school bus. The student's mother complained to school officials that the punishment was so severe that her son had welts on his buttocks and suffered a trauma-induced asthma attack that prompted an emergency-room visit.

Despite the controversy, there are still plenty of advocates who see spanking, paddling and other forms of physical discipline as good old-fashioned, tried-and-true methods of cracking down on kids. Studies have found that large numbers of Americans believe corporal punishment is a suitable option, although support tends to run higher for its use at home rather than at school.

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