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The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio, 24 September 2000
Some Ohio schools not sparing the rod
Corporal punishment allowed in districts
By Scott Stephens
Rhonda Rose won't soon forget the imprint the wooden paddle left on her daughter's buttocks.
Bria Rose, a 17-year-old honor student and homecoming queen at a small southern Ohio high school, received the whack from the 6-foot-4-inch, 250-pound assistant principal of her school. Her crime: a schoolyard tiff with another girl that ended with a shove.
"I took her to the urgent care center, and the doctors thought her uterus had been knocked out of place," the mother of three recalled. "There's a difference between spanking and beating. My daughter had vaginal bleeding for 23 days."
Outlawed in prisons and mental hospitals, corporal punishment is still allowed in 23 states. Those states include Ohio, where 43 of 611 districts don't spare the rod, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics for the 1998-99 school year.
That year, the latest from which statistics are available, more than 700 Ohio students were disciplined with a paddle. More than 500 of those students were from a dozen districts, mostly in the southern and western parts of the state.
However, in Ohio and across the country - and throughout the world - the number of students being paddled in schools is on the decline. In 1982, the U.S. Department of Education reported more than 1.4 million incidents of paddling in public schools. By 1994, that figure had dropped to about 470,000.
On paper, Ohio "abolished" corporal punishment in 1994. But the law approved by the state legislature contained an important loophole: Local school boards can vote to reinstate corporal punishment in their districts if they first establish a local "discipline task force" made up of educators, parents and community leaders to review the issue.
In districts that reinstate corporal punishment, parents who do not want their children paddled can sign a waiver forbidding school personnel from striking their child.
To complicate the issue, some schools in districts that have abolished corporal punishment still have it listed as a disciplinary option in their student handbooks. The handbook at North Ridgeville Middle School, for instance, states that "swats may be administered," even though neither the school nor the district actually paddles students.
"We don't use it as a matter of policy," said John C. Komperda, the school's principal. "I don't even own a paddle. I don't favor it myself, although I'm not totally convinced that there is not a time or a place for it. But it really is a community value. We have a few parents who support it, but an overwhelming majority do not support it."
Berea police Detective Robert Surgenor, an advocate of spanking children who misbehave, has mixed feelings about school officials picking up the paddle. His self-published book, "No Fear: A Police Officer's Perspective," argues that lack of discipline - including corporal punishment - can lead to child delinquency.
"If my child swore at a teacher, I'd give them the green light" to use the paddle, said Surgenor, Berea's juvenile crime investigator and a father of five. "But I have to honor the wishes of parents who don't want a child physically punished at school by someone else."
That's an option Rhonda Rose wishes she had. She said her daughter, who had never been in trouble before, chose being paddled over a three-day suspension because she would have missed classes and basketball.
After the December 1997 paddling, the Roses sued the Bloom-Vernon schools. In depositions, the district disputed that the girl's injuries resulted from the paddling. Superintendent Paul White did not respond to telephone calls for this story. The assistant principal who paddled the girl has left the district.
Concluding the suit should have been filed in state court, a U.S. District judge in Cincinnati dismissed the case in March 1999. At her daughter's urging, Rose did not pursue the matter.
Bria Rose is now in college, studying to become a teacher. Her mother remains bitter about the experience and is a staunch opponent of corporal punishment.
"They know they got away with this," she said. "If I had done that to her, it would have been child abuse. People just don't realize the danger until it happens to their kids."
©2000 THE PLAIN DEALER.
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