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Times Colonist, Victoria, British Columbia, 19 July 2009
1968 debate kept the strap in Victoria schools
Study found student discipline was duty of teachers, not school board
By Andrei Bondoreff
One of the big issues raging in the capital region during this week in 1968 was whether to eliminate the use of corporal punishment in schools.
For generations, hitting a student on the hand with a leather strap for violating certain school rules was considered an acceptable form of discipline in the B.C. public school system.
But in the 1960s, as people began challenging long-held philosophies and attitudes, educators started to question whether using physical violence to get students to "behave" was appropriate.
In 1960, the Chant Report examining the goals and methods of education in the province emphasized the importance of maintaining "traditional values." As a result, the strap was maintained as a disciplinary tool. The debate over its use, however, did not subside.
On July 15, 1968, the issue came up during an otherwise "tranquil" Greater Victoria school board meeting. Trustee John Porteous stood up and "abruptly" proposed that corporal punishment be abolished.
"The strap is usually ineffective, sometimes abused and is a relic of the middle ages," he was quoted in the Daily Times. "There are children strapped in elementary school in Grade 1, very often in a fit of temper by a teacher and principal. That isn't necessary. I think it is time it was stopped."
To support his stance, he cited a survey taken by the principal at Reynolds school that showed 91 per cent of students and 75 per cent of parents favoured the institution's "no strap "approach.
At the time, the board was unprepared to deal with the issue. The majority of trustees resolved to wait a month and make a decision about what to do after an administrative study was completed.
The delay, however, did little to suppress people's desires to express their opinions.
Three trustees joined Porteous's opposition to the strap with one of them commenting that he thought the punishment was "pretty medieval."
The most ardent supporter of the strap on the board was a doctor, who said: "Just because it's medieval doesn't make it wrong. ... Children who do wrong expect to be punished ... and would rather get it over with. It's a matter to be left to the wisdom of teachers and principals," he was quoted as saying in the Daily Times.
The assistant superintendent reminded the board of the provisions of the Public Schools Act which established that teachers using the strap were required to act as would "a kind and judicious parent."
He said that the strap's use was carefully monitored and added that banning the strap would require tripling the number of counsellors needed to deal with undisciplined children.
When the August school board meeting convened, the administrative study was still not ready.
Trustee Porteous, determined to bring change, made a motion to remove the punishment from kindergarten to Grade 3 immediately, "no matter what the report says."
The board however, refused to do anything until it read the study, and the decision about what to do was postponed again.
Finally, on Sept. 16, the study was presented to the board. It concluded that changing the rules was beyond the board's legal jurisdiction because regulations established by cabinet under the Public Schools Act made discipline the responsibility of teachers.
The strap would remain in Greater Victoria classrooms.
Following the delivery of the report, various stakeholders began voicing their dissatisfaction both with the way the board had handled the investigation and the final result.
John Smith, spokesman for the Greater Victoria Teachers Association expressed "the concern of our membership over unsubstantiated statements in the press relating to corporal punishment attributed to members of the board."
He added, "Corporal punishment cannot be treated in isolation from the many problems with which teachers are faced in the classroom."
The Daily Colonist editorialized that "the matter should not be allowed to drop. ... It is interesting to note that the strap is used seldom if at all in some schools, while in others it is a regular form of punishment. This suggests the standard is not being defined by individual teachers as the law states, but rather by policy dictated from the principal's office. It might be asked why the principals should be allowed to usurp this authority. The School Board would seem to have a better claim to make such decisions."
Debates about corporal punishment continued across the province for several years. The legislature finally abolished the disciplinary practice with an amendment to the Public Schools Act on Feb. 15, 1973.
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