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School CP - May 2000

Corpun file 5794


Macon Telegraph, Georgia, 8 May 2000

Lawsuit: Hancock board chairman "hurt student he paddled"

By Rob Peecher

SPARTA - A lawyer representing a student suing the Hancock County school system and its board chairman, individually and in his official capacity, over a student's paddling dropped the case Wednesday against the system and the chairman in his official role.

The suit remains against Hancock County Board of Education chairman Ernest Carswell individually for paddling a middle school student in February 1999.

"Not only did he act in violation of state law, but he also acted in violation of school board policy," said attorney Teresa Mann, who represents the student.

State law requires either a teacher or a principal to administer corporal punishment. And Hancock County school system's policy requires principals and teachers to have prior consent from parents to paddle a student, Mann told the court.

Carswell is neither a teacher nor a principal and did not have parental consent, she said.

But Amy Snell, representing the school system and Carswell, argued that board of education members may be entitled to the same consideration as teachers and principals.

"It's a slippery slope for your honor to start deciding that chairmen of school boards are somehow separate from the inner workings of a school system," Snell said.

The suit was filed in October 1999, claiming that the school system is liable for Carswell's negligent actions, that Carswell was negligent in failing to follow state and local guidelines on corporal punishment, and that Carswell intentionally inflicted emotional distress on the student.

"As a direct and proximate result of Defendant Carswell's negligence, and in addition to his physical injury, (the student) suffered from fright, shock, and mental anxiety," the suit claims.

The student is seeking unspecified punitive damages, compensatory damages and damages for pain and suffering.

Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge John Lee Parrott postponed his ruling on dismissing the suit against Carswell pending supplemental briefs to Wednesday's hearing.

Corpun file 5692

Tribune-Review, Pittsburgh, 12 May 2000

Pittsburgh News

Principal, teacher face charges

By Daniel Reynolds

The principal of a Christian school and a teacher face charges after they beat an 11-year-old student with a fiberglass rod so hard it broke the child's skin, police said.

Wilkins Township police said Stephen Lazzaro, principal of Faith Christian School, and teacher Stephanie Galda administered the punishment because the unidentified fifth-grader submitted an inadequate homework assignment.

"As far as we're concerned, it went a little too far, but that's up to the courts to decide," Wilkins Township police Chief Bill Wilson said Thursday.

Lazzaro, 45, of Thompson Street, Turtle Creek, was charged with aggravated assault, endangering the welfare of a child and criminal conspiracy. Galda, 35, of 10th Street, Sharpsburg, was charged with endangering the welfare of a child and criminal conspiracy.

Galda held the boy down because he was struggling while being struck, police said.

The two face a preliminary hearing at 9 a.m. June 7 before District Justice Frank Comunale of Forest Hills.

A report by Patrolman Jon Sherman indicates that the blows broke the skin of the boy's upper right leg and caused bruises. The unidentified youth was treated and released March 27 at Forbes Regional Hospital in Monroeville, police said.

Galda brought the boy to Lazzaro's office for "disciplinary actions for an unacceptable homework assignment" about 9:30 a.m. March 27, police said.

The teacher and the principal decided the punishment would be paddling, according to the report. Lazzaro told Sherman he intended to hit the boy four times on the buttocks. He said he used the rod because he thought it would cause less damage, according to police.

Lazzaro and Galda did not respond to requests for comment.

"The Bible tells us to use the rod," said Linda Baxter of Turtle Creek as she waited to pick up two children at the school. Baxter said the well-documented troubles of today's children stem from a lack of discipline.

"We need to bring God back in," Baxter said. "We love this school."

Her daughter, Jennifer Baxter, 16, a ninth-grader at Faith Christian, also praised the school.

"This school provides a lot of love," she said. "They are strict with their rules. If you disobey, you suffer the consequences."

Meredith Lazzaro, the principal's daughter who is in her second year at the University of Pittsburgh, said her father is not abusive.

"He's not a tough guy; he only used the rod when he felt he couldn't get the child to listen," she said.

The Rev. Gary LaPietra, pastor of Faith Bible Baptist Church, which subsidizes the school, said parents of all students sign a release allowing corporal punishment when school officials determine it is necessary.

"It's not something that's done off the cuff. It's difficult for me to believe that he acted compulsively," LaPietra said.

The pastor said the boy's mother complained to him the day after the paddling and later withdrew her son from the school. However, the boy's sister still attends the school, LaPietra said.

"We're not hiding anything," he said.

The school has 69 pupils in kindergarten through 12th grade, according to Al Bowman of the state Department of Education.

"They are considered a nonpublic, nonlicensed school," Bowman said. Bowman said schools such as Faith Christian must register with the state to certify that they comply with the school code.

The school was first registered with the state in the 1978-79 school year, according to Bowman.

Images and text copyright © 2000 by The Tribune-Review Publishing Co.

Corpun file 5793

Tribune-Review, Pittsburgh, 12 May 2000

Wilkins Township case raises punishment debate

By Jonathan Potts

Many local school districts have decided to spare the rod.

Officials at Pittsburgh, Woodland Hills, Mt. Lebanon, North Allegheny and Moon school districts said Thursday they abolished paddling and other forms of corporal punishment years ago.

"Research has shown that physically paddling a child is not an effective discipline tool," said Pat Crawford, director of public affairs for the Pittsburgh Public Schools. "It may hurt for the moment, but it didn't stop kids from doing something again."

The city schools began to phase out corporal punishment in 1970, and formally abolished the practice in 1973, Crawford said.

On Wednesday, Wilkins Township police charged the principal at Faith Christian School with aggravated assault, endangering the welfare of a child and criminal conspiracy for allegedly swatting a fifth-grade student with a 3-foot long pointer. A teacher also was charged with criminal conspiracy and endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the incident.

Pennsylvania law - which applies only to public schools - allows corporal punishment but requires schools to get parents' permission first.

"It's behavior that we don't tolerate among students and it's behavior that we think is inappropriate for disciplining our youngsters," said Glenn Smartschan, superintendent of the Mt. Lebanon School District, which formally eliminated corporal punishment in 1993.

"I've been here 10 years, and I don't know of any time when it was ever used," Smartschan said.

But Louis Chandler, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, said paddling, if done correctly, can be an effective behavioral tool.

"It shouldn't be rejected out of hand, simply because some people have the notion that it creates aggression on the part of the child or whatever," Chandler said.

Many school districts, believing corporal punishment encourages children to be aggressive, eliminated the practice about 10 years ago, Chandler said. But some educators are rethinking that stance, he said. "With the advent of more violence among children in schools, there are people who are resorting to more extreme measures to curb that behavior," Chandler said.

Chandler said a child only should be paddled as a last resort and with parental permission. School officials should spell out clearly what offenses merit corporal punishment, he said, and educators should use their hands, not an object.

"A quick smack on the behind is not the same as beating a child," Chandler said.

Corpun file 6285


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 13 May 2000

Some students defend Wilkins principal, teacher charged in spanking

By Jan Ackerman and Jane Elizabeth
Post-Gazette Staff Writers

At Faith Christian School in Wilkins, students know that "serious or repetitive misbehavior," anything from cheating to name-calling, can result in several whacks on the rump.

Paddled schoolgirls

Rebecca Mihalik, left, Sarah Mihalik and Katie Ekis all have been paddled at Faith Christian School and said they benefited from the experience.

"We reserve the right to paddle any student in the school from kindergarten to 12th grade. We have full faith in God's Word, which teaches that 'foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.' (Proverbs 22:15)," says the school's printed policy.

Yesterday, students at the small Christian school were upset that their principal and a teacher face criminal charges for hitting an 11-year-old student with a fiberglass rod.

"I just think it is wrong for them to be pressing charges," said Sarah Mihalik, 16, an 11th-grader. Mihalik, her 15-year-old sister, Rebecca, and Katie Ekis, 18, of Wilkins, all have been paddled at Faith Christian School and said they had benefited from the experience.

Sarah said the punishment was handled in a thoughtful, reasoned fashion.

"They would pray with you" and then "paddle you," said Mihalik. "It helped me a lot."

Before any child is admitted to Faith Christian School, parents must sign a release that allows school officials to use corporal punishment.

The school clearly states in its policy manuals that "we also cannot retain a child who refuses to be paddled."

The Rev. Gary LaPietra, pastor of Faith Bible Baptist Church, which helps fund the school, said "we feel kids in our society don't have enough discipline."

"We certainly don't believe in child abuse," LaPietra said. "It is a fine line, but I don't think it was broken here."

Stephen Lazzaro, principal of the school for the past 21 years, and Stephanie Galda, a teacher, face criminal charges for disciplining an 11-year-old fifth-grade boy March 27.

Police said the youth was beaten hard enough with a fiberglass switch to break the skin because he turned in an unsatisfactory homework assignment. The boy was treated at Forbes Regional Hospital in Monroeville.

The boy's mother said her son transferred to the school this year. She asked that his name not be used because he suffers from an attention disorder and has transferred to another school where he is thriving.

The boy's mother said her son had been paddled on several occasions at Faith Christian, but March 27 was the first time a fiberglass switch was used.

She said her son would sometimes get paddled for turning in incomplete homework or forgetting to turn it in.

After he was disciplined on March 27, she discovered that he was bruised on his behind and had a mark on his thigh. She said he had two abrasions where the rod had landed.

"I was furious," said the woman, who is divorced. "If I had done this, I wouldn't have my children with me."

The woman took photos and called Wilkins police. The next day, she took the boy to Forbes Regional Hospital, where officials took photos and made a report.

The woman said she was concerned that someone might accuse her of inflicting the injuries.

This week, police charged Lazzaro, 45, of Turtle Creek, with aggravated assault, endangering the welfare of a child and criminal conspiracy. Galda, 35, of Sharpsburg, faces charges of endangering the welfare of children and conspiracy.

Wilkins police, who filed the charges, will hold a press conference at noon today.

Lazzaro and Galda face a preliminary hearing June 7 before District Justice Frank Comunale III in Forest Hills.

LaPietra said the mother felt that the school's policies were too severe for her son. He said the school did not administer corporal punishment on impulse, but in a judicious fashion.

He said most teachers had a paddle and the principal had a thin fiberglass rod, about 3 feet long. He said three swats are administered on the backside.

The school has a five-page discipline policy spelling out occasions when paddling can be used.

LaPietra said the boy received many warnings. "We love this child. He had done well with the discipline, and we thought we saw progress," LaPietra said.

"We have no ill feeling about what is happening, and we don't have anything that we are hiding."

According to estimates by the U.S. Department of Education, 500,000 students per year are spanked by educators. The United States is one of only three industrialized nations that permits corporal punishment; the others are Canada and Australia.

About half of the 50 states have outlawed spanking in schools. The Pennsylvania school code still allows corporal punishment if the local school board approves it and distributes the policy.

"It should be recognized that corporal punishment always contains the danger of excessiveness," the school code reads. "No disciplinary action should exceed in degree the seriousness of the offense."

Nonpublic schools are not required to follow the Pennsylvania school code.

Even in districts that pass a spanking measure, the punishment must not "cause bodily injury," according to the school code. Also, students who are going to be hit cannot be told to remove any clothing.

The state Department of Education doesn't keep statistics on how many of the state's 501 school districts have voted to allow corporal punishment. It is not allowed in Pittsburgh public schools.

Corpun file 5729


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 16 May 2000


Discipline or abuse?

Charges of classroom brutality are the public's business

Faith Christian School in Wilkins says the Word of God requires that it drive out the foolishness in a child's heart with the rod of correction. But if the rod of correction breaks the skin and leaves physical welts, it's time to apply the laws of man.

In response to the March 27 punishment of an 11-year-old fifth-grade boy, Wilkins police have filed charges against the principal and teacher involved. The principal is charged with aggravated assault, endangering the welfare of a child and criminal conspiracy. The teacher faces charges of endangering the welfare of children and conspiracy.

The legal system will decide if these charges, filed after a complaint by the boy's mother, have merit. But as a general proposition, intervention by public authorities is appropriate when a child has been injured, even if the injury was sustained under the auspices of the Good Book. The Faith Christian School handbook spells out that corporal punishment will be used, and the school requires parents to sign a release allowing their children to be spanked. Any child who refuses to submit to physical punishment can be kicked out of the school.

Several students interviewed by the Post-Gazette said they had been spanked and felt that it had helped them. They are upset that school officials are being held responsible for the injuries sustained by the child who was whacked with a fiberglass rod.

The Rev. Gary LaPietra, pastor of Faith Bible Baptist Church, which helps fund the school, said physical punishment is needed to instill discipline. "We certainly don't believe in child abuse," Mr. LaPietra said. "It is a fine line, but I don't think it was broken here."

Of course, one way of dealing with the ambiguity caused by a fine line is to make the line bold by ruling out corporal punishment altogether. Pennsylvania's school code (which does not apply to private schools) at present allows physical discipline, but warns that "it should be recognized that corporal punishment always contains the danger of excessiveness." Since there are other ways to instill discipline, and since the potential for harm is ever present, it would make sense for Pennsylvania to join the states that have outlawed corporal punishment in public schools.

Private religious schools are admittedly in a different legal category. But neither their private status nor the freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment permits such schools to use punishment so severe that it violates general laws against assault or battery.

Fine or not, there is a line in the law between permissible corporal punishment and the illegal use of force even in private schools. If the district attorney concludes in this or any other case that the line has been crossed, he has no alternative but to prosecute.

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