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The Houston Chronicle, Texas, 7 March 1989
High court lets stand state law allowing paddling in schools
By Jo Ann Zuniga
The U.S. Supreme Court Monday let stand a Texas law that allows corporal punishment in public schools, while a national study placed the state first in the number of students paddled.
Of the more than 1,000 districts in Texas, only two - Alamo Heights in Bexar County and Clear Creek in suburban Houston - have banned corporal punishment, known as "pops," said Jimmy Dunne, president and founder of People Opposed to Paddling Students.
But in a growing move against swatting pupils, about 30 or 40 principals within the Houston Independent School District have prohibited paddling in their schools.
"It's part of our culture to handle discipline problems through paddling," said Dunne, a former Houston teacher. "But much of that is not for discipline but for reasons like having shirttails out, walking on the grass, having the wrong gym socks on. It's devastating to elementary school children."
The justices, without comment, let stand a state law that allows the use of all necessary corporal punishment, short of deadly force, in Texas' public schools.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law in dismissing a lawsuit filed on behalf of two kindergarten girls paddled for "snickering" at a school in the east Texas town of Jacksonville.
In 1977, Supreme Court justices ruled that public school disciplinary measures involving physical force never can amount to the "cruel and unusual punishment " banned by the Constitution's Eighth Amendment. The decision barred students from suing teachers and school administrators in federal court over alleged Eighth Amendment violations but left them free to sue in state courts under state laws.
In the same ruling, however, the court said it was leaving undecided whether corporal punishment ever may violate "substantive rights under the (14th Amendment's) due process clause."
The Texas case began May 6, 1987, when Crystal Cunningham, 5, and Ashley Johnson, 6, each were paddled twice by their school principal and, later, three times by their teacher.
Each girl missed six days of school. Their lawsuit said the reason for their absence was "severe pain" and fear over returning to school.
According to court documents, both girls were taken to a child welfare office, where social workers examined their bruises and said the two had been subjected to child abuse.
Lawyers for the girls cited U.S. Department of Education studies indicating that 30,000 schoolchildren are physically injured each year "because of the infliction of corporal punishment to a degree that requires medical treatment."
The appeal said those studies estimate that "at least 100,000 children develop emotional and learning disabilities from excessive and inappropriate school punishment each year."
Ashley's father, Larry Johnson, said his daughter, now 7, is finishing the second grade but still has learning difficulties in school.
"It kind of put her behind other children, but she seems to be getting better now," Johnson said.
The family has not decided whether to pursue legal action. Her grandmother, Lavada Johnson, said she was the one who determined the child had been paddled.
"Her whole bottom was black and blue. She stayed upset that whole year at school," Mrs. Johnson said.
Anti-paddling activists were in Austin last month to testify for a bill sponsored by state Sen. Craig Washington, D-Houston. The legislation would limit paddling in Texas public schools to those students whose parents sign consent forms.
In 1985-86, the most recent school year for which statistics are available, 260,399 Texas public school students were paddled - more than twice the number of students paddled in second-place Florida, according to a study by the National Coalition of Advocacy for Students.
Drawing on data furnished by the Department of Education, the Boston-based group's analysis revealed that Texas students were paddled at a rate of nearly eight of every 100 students during the year studied.
Six states had higher corporal punishment rates, or greater percentages of students paddled. Arkansas led the nation with 13.7 percent.
Thirteen states have banned paddling: Virginia, California, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin.
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