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School CP - July 2001
Andalusia Star-News, Alabama, 11 July 2001
Role models deserve recognitionBy Michael Willard
The Andalusia Star-News
A few memories stand out at the forefront of my mind on a regular basis related to my schooling at Rocky Ridge Elementary School in Birmingham. Granted, if it weren't for the teachers at that school I probably wouldn't be reading and writing today, much less producing something for other people to read. However, while the memories and the lessens I obtained from an education standpoint are important, a few other things about kindergarten through sixth grade often pour forth from my memory more regularly than others.
All those paddlings I received up until about fourth grade still illicit a stinging sensation in my rear end and force of habit often leads me to hold my tongue on a variety of occasions in hopes of avoiding demerits or conduct slips, one of the regular behavior reminders I received during my latter grade-school years. Countless scrapes and bruises I received on the playground and cafeteria memories in which laughter forced me to spew forth chocolate milk from both nostrils are other events that come to mind when I remember my days at Rocky Ridge.
While I remember certain events with great clarity, I also remember certain teachers who helped to turn a messy kid with glasses, bad handwriting and a never-ending ability to find someone with whom I could chit chat, into the semi-productive adult you see before you. There was the teacher who didn't just give me one lick with the paddle for talking, but she gave me two licks for telling her it wasn't me who was talking and the teacher who gave me the conduct slip for eating two French fries that belonged to someone else.
Fortunately, however, all of my memories of events and teachers in elementary school weren't related to disciplinary action. When I was speaking with Covington County Sheriff's Department DARE Officer Lt. Steve Geohagen, I remembered one of those particular teachers, as well as the role she played in my life both during my schooling and afterwards.
"One thing I enjoy is when kids I have taught come up to me with their personal problems, and I am able to give them advice they might not have been able to ask someone else for," Geohagen said of his favorite part of being a DARE officer. "I have been able to establish a good relationship with them."
In my mind that is really what being an educator and a positive role model for young people is all about. Whether that role model works in the classroom, the ball field or the church, not only teaching, but also establishing a good relationship is what education is all about.
Fortunately, I was lucky enough to have several of those teachers who filled that role as I grew up, though one in particular comes to mind now. Strangely enough, that one was a sixth-grade teacher who was renowned throughout my school for having a paddle filled with holes and rusty nails, but whose rumored wrath I never knew. While no particular horror stories linger in my memory of that teacher, I do recall the moments she spent at the end of class periods reading to us from the annals of Paul Harvey and the hours she spent working with us in the school's safety patrol. While other teachers spent their spring breaks forgetting about their students, this teacher obligated hers to their education, as she always chaperoned a group, including myself, to our nation's capitol.
Years later, that sixth-grade teacher's role continued into my college years first as a co-worker and then as a friend with whom I could share not only my problems with school, women and life, but also all of the other wild adventures I could never tell my parents about. Now that I look on the 15-plus years I have known that teacher, I feel confident in saying my life wouldn't have turned out like it did without her help.
As Steve Geohagen, as well as the many other educators throughout Covington County already know, that is one of the best gifts a role model can give a young person. Likewise, the effort and the sacrifices those educators and role models make is something which young people should never forget or take lightly. I know I haven't.
Michael Willard is a reporter and a columnist for The Andalusia Star-News.
© 2000 Andalusia Star News, All Rights Reserved.
Mobile Register, Alabama, 18 July 2001
Mom fights school spankings
Demopolis woman challenges policy after first-grader comes home with bruisesBy Rebecca Catalanello
DEMOPOLIS - The second time it happened, 7-year-old Jonathan didn't tell his mother about the paddling he got at school.
Michaela Curtis said she didn't learn about it until she saw the bruises at bath time. The photos she took show red welts and dark bruises on the first-grader's bare bottom.
"No one sent a note home, no one called me, nothing," she said.
Now, the registered nurse and Demopolis mother of four has launched an effort to try to get her local school board to change its policy allowing corporal punishment.
Her campaign has caught the attention of the national media and leaders across the state. It has helped to once again bring the issue of corporal punishment in Alabama's schools to the forefront.
Mobile County school officials began the same battle last week when two board members and Superintendent Harold Dodge said school paddling is outdated and makes them vulnerable to legal challenges and misuse. Three other school board members, meanwhile, say corporal punishment is a needed disciplinary option.
Mobile's board was expected to talk about the issue during a special meeting set for 1 p.m. today.
Stories of infamous school paddlings are not hard to find:
The parents of a Zwolle, La., fourth-grader who arrived home with bruises on her buttocks recently sued school officials after hospital workers labeled the incident an assault requiring a police notification.
A St. Clair County, Ala., mother made national news in the late 1980s when she was sentenced to jail after assaulting a principal who she said paddled her child against her expressed wishes.
A Dade County, Fla., 14-year-old was held face down over a conference table in the 1970s and got 20 licks for being late, breaking a glass in shop class and then resisting getting paddled - a case that resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of corporal punishment in schools.
The Dade County school board banned student paddling despite that decision.
"It's just not worth what can happen," Mobile County Principal Sharon Upton said, reflecting on her decision not to allow it at John Will Elementary in west Mobile.
"It's just too risky."
Support low, but many schools permit it
When asked, many educators - locally and in other parts of Alabama - said they agree that paddling should be a last resort or not used at all.
Still, the last count showed that most of the state's 128 systems permit it.
And the latest numbers from the U.S. Department of Education show Alabama students were paddled at the third-highest rate in the country in 1997-98.
Alabama is in the minority.
Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia have banned corporal punishment. Numerous national organizations - including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Bar Association, American Medical Association, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of State Boards of Education, the National Association of School Psychologists and the National Association of School Nurses - have issued statements supporting banning school spankings.
Alabama groups supporting a ban have included the Alabama Association of PTAs and the Alabama Association of School Boards.
"It can be easily misused or abused," said Pat Guyton, executive director of the Child Advocacy Center in Mobile.
There's no way to measure how hard a child is spanked, how many licks a child should get and under what circumstances spankings should be administered, he said.
"Generally, I'm opposed to people other than parents using corporal punishment, because it can easily get out of hand. Very quickly, it can go from discipline to abuse."
Discipline or abuse?
Michaela Curtis said that until March 27, she had no problem with the school system's policy of spanking children.
In fact, a school discipline specialist called her the day before to tell her Jonathan had been picking his nose after being told not to. He had been disruptive and ignoring instructions from his teachers, the specialist said.
Michaela Curtis said she offered to go in and paddle the first-grade advanced placement student herself. The administrator declined, she said, and told her she would give the child a paddling, and she gave him three strokes of the paddle on his backside.
The next day, it happened again - but that time no one contacted Jonathan's family - and the result was bruising that lasted two weeks, Curtis said.
The 7-year-old said he counted eight licks to his rear as he was holding his knees. In a subsequent letter to Michaela Curtis, Demopolis Superintendent Wesley Hill confirmed that a teacher's aide and Jennifer Lay, the behavior management specialist at Westside Elementary School who administered the paddling, called Jonathan into her office later in the day to see if the paddling left marks.
They "lifted his shirt and pulled back the elastic band on his trousers just enough to check his side or hip, not his buttocks," he wrote in a June 5 letter.
Regardless of the reason, Michaela Curtis said, she's upset that administrators would, as Jonathan described it to her, pull down his pants.
"There was no evidence from observation that Jonathan suffered pain and discomfort after the corporal punishment was administered," wrote Hill, who could not be reached for further comment.
"All children need discipline," Curtis said. "My problem is not that he got spanked. It's the frequency with which he got hit - eight times - and the strength with which he was hit."
Curtis wants her local board to amend its policy allowing paddling to at least require parental notification every time it is administered. Her story is expected to air on television's "Inside Edition" in September, she said.
Opponents say there are other ways of disciplining children that don't involve inflicting physical pain.
In-school and after-school suspensions are options, they say.
Blount High School Principal Dorothy Cooley said one way the Prichard administration deals with disciplinary issues is to assign children to after-school work detail - cleaning up school grounds at the side of a custodian.
"If you can get them to respond without physical punishment, I think any reasonable person would say that's probably better than corporal punishment," said Hoover City Superintendent Jack Farr. In its 13 years of existence, the Birmingham-area system has never allowed corporal punishment to be used.
Psychologists such as Nadine Block of the Center for Effective Discipline suggest spanking can send mixed messages to students by validating the use of physical force.
But Den A. Trumbull, a Montgomery pediatrician, has written for the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council in favor of parents spanking children.
In an article titled "Spare the Rod?" he challenged critics and cited a poll conducted for the conservative policy organization in which four of five Americans who said they were spanked as children called the discipline effective.
"That's the way I was raised. That's the way my children were raised, that's the way my grandchildren are raised, and if I had great-grandchildren, that's how they would be treated," Mobile County school board member John Holland said, registering his opinion on whether the system's corporal punishment policy should be done away with.
Holland said that as long as Alabama law allows schools to paddle children, he will stand behind the practice.
Fellow members Lonnie Parsons and David Thomas also have said they believe there is merit in corporal punishment in some instances and it should be available to educators.
Thomas and Parsons said they might be agreeable to requiring parental permission before principals can spank children. Holland, meanwhile, said such a requirement would simply bog down a principal's day.
"Every time you add to the principal's list of things to do, it becomes more complicated for him to do his job," he said.
State law protects teachers
Mobile County school officials said they counted 781 instances in which school officials used corporal punishment last year. Baldwin County reported 543 paddlings.
Sue Adams of the state Department of Education said the state only this year began requiring school systems to report such data, but she doesn't expect the numbers to be fully compiled for another month.
Adams said her department has received numerous requests for the figures in the past few years.
The U.S. Department of Education reported that in 1997-98 there were 457,754 students subjected to school paddlings - about 1 percent of the total U.S. public school enrollment.
Alabama law not only allows the corporal punishment, a provision added in recent years gives educators immunity from lawsuits, provided they gave the paddlings in line with their local policies.
Michaela Curtis said she sees the law establishing a double standard: Teachers who detect unusual bruises on children's bodies are required to report suspected abuse to authorities, while parents who see the same thing on their children as a result of educators' disciplinary procedures get little to no back-up from the law.
"I don't believe that black and blue means abuse only if a parent does it," Curtis said.
Mobile Register, Alabama, 19 July 2001
Boys, blacks paddled the mostBy Rebecca Catalanello
Mobile County educators paddled overwhelmingly more boys and more black children in 1999-2000 than any other students, figures released by the school system Wednesday showed.
In a school system that is 49.5 percent black, 70 percent of the 781 reported paddlings were administered to blacks and 83 percent were given to boys.
"What is it about black men that we think we need to control them with a paddle?" school board member Hazel Fournier said after looking at the numbers during a special meeting of the board Wednesday.
Board members voted during the meeting on a revised Student Code of Conduct, which included a proposal to ban corporal punishment systemwide.
The vote on the proposal was split 2-2 along gender lines, with the men favoring paddling, and that lets stand the current policy allowing the practice in the state's largest school system.
But Fournier promised the vote won't be the end of the discussion.
Just before board members Lonnie Parsons and John Holland voted to keep corporal punishment, Parsons said that abolishing school spankings would be on par with "taking God out" of schools.
"The Lord's been locked out of our schools, and now people want the paddle taken out," he said. "It'll be a sad day for our schools."
With the fifth board member, David Thomas, out of town, Fournier said she would demand that the issue be included on the agenda of every scheduled board meeting "until our fellow board members have done their homework ... until we use some common sense."
The next regular board meeting is scheduled for July 25.
She and board President Peggy Nikolakis voted along with the male board members to approve the rest of the Student Code of Conduct.
Fournier also asked for a report on the racial breakdown of the people who have administered the paddlings.
Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia have banned corporal punishment from being used in schools.
Though U.S. Department of Education figures show that about 1 percent of the public school population received paddlings in 1997-98, the same figures show the disciplinary procedure was used on 6.3 percent of Alabama's public school students -- the third highest rate in the country behind Mississippi and Arkansas.
And while black students make up 17 percent of the nation's public students, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights reports that they received 37 percent of the paddlings.
"That wasn't an issue with me," Parsons said when asked about the racial disparities in the spanking data.
Semmes Middle School, which lies in Parsons' northwestern district, had the most paddlings of any county school with 87. The school is 6.1 percent black and 93 percent white, but 19 percent of the paddlings were given to black students.
"Basically, we don't use corporal punishment unless we contact a parent and they would like us to try that," Semmes Principal Monte Tatum said. Tatum said he uses the punishment as a last resort and often gives parents a choice between paddling or suspending their children.
When asked about his thoughts on the racial disparities, Tatum said his experience is that black parents who live in the inner city tend to favor spanking as an effective form of discipline.
"The fact that parents use it does not endorse it -- that does not make it right," Harvard University professor and psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint said.
Going back to slavery, American society has long had an image of black males as being too aggressive, out of control and in need of reining in through whippings, Poussaint said, linking that mindset to the philosophy that drives racial profiling.
While spanking may be part of accepted disciplinary practices in some parts of black culture, Poussaint said, much of it likely stems from the fact that black parents for ages have had to quiet their children -- "make them meek" -- in order to keep them safe in a white society historically hostile to blacks.
Den A. Trumbull, a Montgomery pediatrician and advocate of spanking by parents, said Wednesday that he is more hesitant about corporal punishment when it comes to endorsing the practice in a school setting.
"There have been some abuses," Trumbull said. "When the school personnel doesn't have a nurturing relationship with a student, sometimes (paddling) can become an avenue of vengeance."
Mobile board member Thomas has said he would favor changing the system's policy to ensure it would be more fairly used, but he was not available for comment on the numbers released during the Wednesday board meeting.
© Mobile Register.
Mobile Register, Alabama, 21 July 2001
National group seizes on racial disparity in punishment at Mobile schoolsBy Rebecca Catalanello
A national anti-spanking group is calling for a civil rights audit of the Mobile County Public School System, because its educators for the past two years have paddled far more black children than white children.
"The Mobile school board and administration are doing nothing to correct this matter," wrote Bob Fathman, president of the National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools, in a letter faxed Friday to the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.
Fathman successfully petitioned the federal agency to intervene in an Ohio school system for the same reason and has been active as an anti-corporal punishment lobbyist since the 1980s.
In Mobile County, where black students comprise 49.5 percent of the public school population, black children received 70 percent of the 781 school spankings in 1999-2000 and 65 percent of the 1,054 paddlings in 2000-2001, figures released by the school system showed.
"I don't think we need people from Washington coming to Mobile and making decisions on what's wrong here," Mobile County school board member John Holland said about Fathman's audit request. Holland is one of two board members who voted this week to keep corporal punishment in the school system.
Superintendent Harold Dodge, school board President Peggy Nikolakis and board member Hazel Fournier last week called for an end to school spankings in the state's largest system, labeling it an outdated form of discipline that leaves the schools open to legal action.
A 2-2 tie vote this week let stand the policy allowing the paddlings. Board member David Thomas, who has said he favors keeping school spanking, has been out of town.
Fournier has asked the issue be put on the agenda again July 25 and every two weeks after that until board members agree to ban it.
"If all things are equal, then we shouldn't be afraid to be looked at, should we?" Fournier said, supporting the National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools' actions.
The coalition is an Ohio-based nonprofit group that pushes for states to disallow corporal punishment in schools on the premise that it is ineffective, often abusive and frequently administered without consistency.
Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia have banned school paddling. While Alabama allows the practice, it gives local districts the right to decide for themselves.
The Office for Civil Rights will have to determine whether there is cause to investigate the complaint, U.S. Department of Education spokesman Rodger Murphey said. If officials decide to look into practices at the 66,000-student school system, the Office for Civil Rights will request data from Mobile County and conduct an on-site evaluation to determine if the system is in compliance with laws forbidding discrimination.
The investigation could take up to 135 days, Murphey said. A school system found out of compliance usually works with the federal government to fix the situation, he said. Others are referred to the Department of Justice for enforcement.
Eighteen percent or 870 of the 4,897 complaints made last year to the Office for Civil Rights involved discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin. Of those, 596 stemmed from disciplinary actions taken by schools, Murphey said.
"If there's something wrong, I'd like it to be corrected," said Lonnie Parsons, who joined Holland in his opposition to doing away with school paddling.
Parsons said he does not believe the racial disparities indicate anything inherently wrong with how Mobile educators are administering paddlings. He has said pulling the paddle out of schools is on par to "taking God out" of schools, saying that both help with discipline.
Dodge said he always encourages his principals to opt for another way of correcting student behavior. In fact, 64 of the county's 94 schools for which paddling numbers were reported chose not to administer the punishment at all in 1999-2000, while 70 schools said they didn't use it in 2000-2001.
"There are so many other ways to discipline kids," Nikolakis said. "We're treating the symptoms and not treating the root of the problem."
© Mobile Register.
The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Virginia, 27 July 2001
My red badge of courage
Paddling of public school students is still legal in 23 states. Years ago, when paddling was legal in Virginia, a coach set out to teach a lesson to four boys at Stafford High School.By Larry Evans
WHY AM I NOT surprised that Mississippi leads the nation in the percentage of public-school students subjected to paddling?
No, I'm not talking about watercraft instruction.
This is about spanking, about discipline directly applied to the behinds of students who break school rules. Most often, such punishment is delivered with a wooden board rather than a hand.
Paddling is legal in 23 "mainly Southern" states, according to a report this week on abcnews.com.
Virginia is not among them.
Mississippi leads the pack. Ten percent of that state's pupils have felt the sting of a paddle, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Arkansas (9 percent) and Alabama (6 percent) are second and third on the list, while Texas (2 percent) finishes way back in seventh place. (Texas legislators, embarrassed by the state's low number, will now demand more paddling).
Personally speaking, I'm against paddling. I always have been--and never more so than in the early 1960s when I was a student at Stafford High School.
Paddling was legal in Virginia back during those very different times, and I once felt the very direct effect of plywood justice.
Which is why it is of no surprise to me that the state of Mississippi leads the nation in paddling.
You see, my ninth-grade gym teacher was a young, square-jawed, crew-cut former football player at the University of Mississippi. In fact, if I correctly recall what he told the class, he caught a pass that won a Sugar Bowl game.
Life has its ups and downs, however, and the former football star clearly was not pleased to find himself, day after day, in front of a bunch of smart-alecky 14-year-old boys.
Every time we got noisy, the likable but sometimes grumpy man we all called "Coach" would point over his shoulder to the paddle hanging on a hook on the wall behind his desk.
The paddle was made of two or three layers of plywood glued together and varnished to a high shine. It was attached to the hook by a strip of rawhide that had been threaded through a hole drilled in the handle.
On the day the embattled coach finally chose to use his paddle, I found myself up the creek.
The incident began as the coach was writing an assignment on the blackboard. The kid in the desk behind me folded a piece of notebook paper into an airplane and sent it flying toward the coach. The plane hit the coach in the forehead just as he turned back toward the class.
He glowered as he scanned the faces of the four of us sitting in the far left row.
"It came from that row," the coach said in a calm, deep voice. "Who threw it?"
Nobody said a word.
"OK. I want the person who threw it to confess or else I want somebody else in that row to tell me who threw it. Otherwise, all four of you are going to get paddled."
Nobody said a word.
"Line up," he said.
The four of us walked to the front of the room, faced the blackboard and bent over. I was the third person down the line.
Victim No. 1 uttered not a peep, though tears welled in his eyes.
Victim No. 2 showed no reaction. (We were being raised on a steady diet of then-new John Wayne movies, so we understood that guys weren't supposed to whimper, let alone cry.)
I was next.
I gritted my teeth, gripped my knees with my hands and stared at the blackboard.
The coach was now angry because he realized he was not going to find out who hit him with the paper airplane.
The sting was sharp, but not intolerable. I winced. Behind me, the rest of the class erupted in laughter. The coach mumbled, "Damn it."
I looked over my left shoulder and saw that the coach had broken the plywood paddle on my backside.
The fourth guy smiled as we walked back to our desks.
That evening at supper, I knew I had to tell what had happened because my father was certain to find out. He and the coach were on the same bowling team and would see each other that night.
"I got paddled today at school," I said.
My father was a firm believer in good behavior and a strict disciplinarian. He stared at me and quietly listened while I gave a full account.
"Sounds like you and the coach both did what you felt you needed to do," said my father, smiling.
A lawsuit never entered anyone's mind.
And nobody, including me, thought the coach was abusive.
In fact, I considered the entire episode--from the flight of the airplane to the snap of the paddle--as a funny interlude in an otherwise boring day.
Still, I am not a proponent of paddling, spanking or any other form of physical discipline.
As for the coach, I knew at the time that he merely was trying to teach us a lesson Mississippi-style; he believed, you could say, that he could reach our anti-authoritarian, thick heads by inflicting pain on our southern ends.
Gentle readers in these softer times might wonder if the paddle left a lasting impression on either my psyche or my butt?
The paddle's dim imprint did remain for a couple of days. I was too modest to show it to anyone, of course, but I wore it like a red badge of courage.
Copyright 2002, The Free Lance-Star Publishing Co. of Fredericksburg, Va.
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