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Atlanta Journal and Constitution, 10 September 1987
Ga. groups want school paddling law repealed
By Susan Laccetti
Educators, parents, children's support groups and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are joining forces to get Georgia's 23-year-old corporal punishment law repealed, organizers of the effort announced Wednesday.
The law, which allows teachers or principals to administer physical punishment if it is not unduly severe, is not the proper way to maintain order in the classroom, opponents of the law say.
The coalition of groups, which soon will be named, is planning a Nov. 14 statewide conference on corporal punishment and a strategy session to get legislators to repeal the law during the 1988 session of the Georgia General Assembly.
"Corporal punishment serves no useful purpose; it abuses children and serves no particular educational purpose," said Gene Guerrero, executive director of the Georgia ACLU.
Corporal punishment has sparked opposition among some Georgia parents recently. The ACLU filed suit against the Toombs County Board of Education in April, charging that the December paddling of 13-year-old Brian Miller was too severe.
Miller, who according to his parents was struck eight to 10 times with a wooden paddle, was treated for multiple contusions on his buttocks.
In Fannin County last year, parents challenged the school system for allowing teachers to paddle students who do not do their homework. The school board decided to give parents the authority to veto any paddling.
"Hitting a kid is an admission of failure of a teacher," said Pat Smith, a member of the repeal effort and assistant executive director of the Association for Retarded Citizens. "They can't think of anything else to do. They've lost control of their classroom and everything else."
Georgia's law leaves it up to local school systems to decide if they want to use corporal punishment. But the law specifies that spanking should not be the first choice for punishment; must be administered in the presence of a principal or assistant principal; a parent must be notified of the reason for the punishment; and a student can be exempt from corporal punishment if a doctor specifies it is detrimental to the child's mental health.
Although the state Department of Education does not keep track of how many students are subjected to corporal punishment and in which of Georgia's 186 school districts it is used, an estimated 2 million incidents occur nationwide annually.
A report issued by Temple University's National Center for the Study of Corporal Punishment this week said paddling, ear-twisting, hair- pulling and other forms of corporal punishment have slightly declined in recent years.
Nine states - New Jersey, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine, New York, Hawaii and California - have laws banning it. It is also banned from city of Atlanta and Fulton County public schools.
Major professional organizations such as the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have taken stands against corporal punishment.
Based on incidents reported to the federal government, the 10 top swatters among the states are Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia, Missouri and Kentucky, Temple's corporal punishment report said, adding more punishment is inflicted in rural areas than suburban areas.
Corporal punishment can harm students both emotionally and physically, some educators say.
"It's hard for the children,not only those being subjected, but those sitting in the classroom watching it," said Marilyn Gootman, a professor at the University of Georgia's College of Education. "It zaps their energy from their learning because of the fears."
"It's bad. It's wrong," added Pam Cecil, a member of the Georgia Council on Child Abuse Board of Directors. "It isn't just bad for your child, it's bad for all children."
State lawmakers offer differing views on the need to discipline students through corporal punishment.
"It's not something you take pride in doing, but discipline is one of the major problems we have in public education now," said state Sen. John Foster (D-Cornelia), chairman of the Senate Education Committee. "I would be opposed to repealing it completely."
But Sen. Horace Tate (D-Atlanta), also a member of the Senate Education Committee and a former principal, said, "Corporal punishment should not be accepted by our society in 1987."
"I have never thought that it was necessary to discipline children," Tate added. "Using psychological techniques and skills are just as productive as physical punishment."
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