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School CP - June 1996

Bermuda Sun, 14 June 1996

Spare the rod, urges children's advocate

By Meredith Ebbin

AN American paediatrician yesterday said that the "four strokes of the cane or strap" that will be allowed under Bermuda's new education code of conduct is "antiquated", "cruel" and "hurtful to the child."

Dr. Vincent Fontana, a American child abuse expert and frequent visitor to Bermuda, said the "spare the rod, spoil the child" approach may have worked 20 years ago. But it is not effective today, because young people have avenues -- gangs for instance -- that allow them to survive outside the home.

Neither were the children of earlier generations exposed, as today's children are, to "environmental poisons" such as "drug-infested neighbourhoods" and unwholesome television programmes.

And while children will not be harmed by a "couple of spanks in times of extreme emergency", he said the consistent use of corporal punishment is not the way to enforce discipline among children of today.

He said "loving discipline" is the way to teach children, but said it has to start when they are young -- not when they are pre-teens or teenagers.

Dr. Fontana this week criticized government for dragging its heels on coming up with solutions to tackle child abuse. He was asked by the Sun for his views on corporal punishment, one day after the Education Ministry released a new code of conduct for schools.

The code, which sets out policies for dealing with student behavioural and discipline problems, will continue to allow corporal punishment.

But under the code, a child can have no more than four strokes of the cane or strap administered to the hand.

The student may only receive corporal punishment from a teacher of the same sex, it must be witnessed by another teacher and documented.

Education Minister Jerome Dill could not be reached to explain why his ministry opted to retain corporal punishment.

But reasons could be the strong community support for corporal punishment in Bermuda and the division even within the educational community on its effectiveness.

Senator Milton Scott, general secretary for the Bermuda Union of Teachers, said the union has not taken a position on corporal punishment because opinion among teachers is divided. "Some teachers are from the old school and others have a much more liberal approach," he said.

Livingston Tuzo, head of the Association of School Principals, said corporal punishment is not used very much. He predicted that it will ultimately be phased out.

Does it work?

He questioned the effectiveness of corporal punishment, but feels it should be left on the books "as a deterrent".

One educator, who declined to be named, predicted that Bermuda's Supreme Court could get a challenge from a parent opposed to the use of corporal punishment.

Lawyer Ian Kawaley said a legal challenge would be easy to do in Bermuda although it remained to be seen how the court would rule.

He said: "There is Commonwealth authority for the proposition that corporal punishment in government schools is cruel and degrading treatment, which is prohibited by commonwealth constitutions, including Bermuda's."

U.S. schools

Dr. Fontana, who supports the work of children's advocate Sheelagh Cooper, said while the U.S. Supreme Court has not outlawed corporal punishment, its use in schools is being abolished all over the U.S. And it must be administered when a third party is in the room.

He said: "Corporal punishment is not the way to discipline children. Loving discipline is the way to teach children."

Asked how he would deal with a child was disruptive in school, he said: "Problems in schools stem from the home." He added: " Many parents are not aware of what proper parenting is all about." What is needed, is said, is parent-teacher alliances so that problems of parenting can be discussed.

Bermuda Sun, 21 June 1996

Earlier school report urged end to corporal punishment

By Meredith Ebbin

THE headmistress of private school Mount St. Agnes Academy yesterday said she is disappointed at the education ministry's decision to retain corporal punishment in government schools.

Sister Judith Rollo said she is opposed to the use of corporal punishment, which hasn't been used at Mount St. Agnes for at least 25 years.

Sister Judith conceded there are many social problems today, and public school teachers have to deal with more children with problems than teachers in private schools.

But she questioned the effectiveness of corporal punishment, saying: "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."

Sister Judith also revealed that in the early 1980s, when Dr. George Thomas was education minister, she was the only private school representative on a committee that drew up a discipline code for government schools.

The committee recommended doing away with corporal punishment, she said.
But nothing ever came of that code because Dr. Thomas was replaced as minister and the report just sat on a shelf, she said.

Sister Judith also expressed frustration with the way parents are raising their children, saying many children are not being nurtured at home.

She said sometimes she thinks the answer to the problems teachers are facing is to remove children from schools and replace them with their parents, " to teach them how to parent."

She said: "The social issues are so big, it so difficult to say what the problem is. But no amount of building, no amount of restructuring is going to deal with the fact that we have angry children coming to school.

"I don't think children are being nurtured."

Calling on parents to devote more time to their children, she said: "I think the place to start is with our individual lives, to say to ourselves what is more important, to have two trips off the island every year, or to spend more time with my children."

Sister Judith's comments were in response to inquiries from the Sun about whether corporal punishment is used at Mount St. Agnes, which is a Catholic school.

The education ministry, in a new code of discipline released two weeks ago, has opted to retain it as form of punishment.

The new regulations allow no more than four strokes of the cane or strap administered to the hand of a student.

The strapping must be witnessed by another teacher and documented.
Livingston Tuzo, head of the Association of School Principals, has said that while he supports keeping corporal punishment on the books as a "deterrent", it is not used very much. He predicted that it will eventually be phased out.

Principals at private schools Saltus Grammar and Bermuda High School said corporal punishment is no longer used at their institutions.

It is still used at the Bermuda Institute, a Seventh-Day Adventist School, under conditions similar to those in government schools.

Principal Sheila Holder said: "We find it's a deterrent."

But she said it is used "sparingly" and as a last resort.

Eleanor Kingsbury, headmistress at BHS, said of corporal punishment: "I think there is a much more effective way of dealing with children."

BHS deals with infractions with a system of demerits, she said. A girl who racks up more than ten demerits will find herself in Saturday morning detention.

More serious infractions such as theft or physical abuse will result in immediate suspension, she said, with expulsion being the ultimate penalty.

At Saltus, headmaster Trevor Rowell said corporal punishment was abolished about five years ago by his predecessor. "I am opposed to it, personally and on principle. I've seen no evidence that it results in better behaviour."

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Colin Farrell 1996