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School CP - March 2003

Mobile Register, Mobile, Alabama, 9 March 2003

City stops paddling; county's still swinging

Spanked student's aunt says practice is unsafe for girls, abusive to all

By Karen Tolkkinen
Mobile Register

Renesha Carson stood in the assistant principal's office. She put her feet together, leaned forward. Palms pressed flat on the seat of the chair. She had never been paddled before.

"It's a big piece of thick wood," said Renesha, 14. "I was hurting."

Her aunt, Vonna Knight, had requested that Monrovia Middle School not spank Renesha. Knight said she sent a note to the school. Principal Derrell Brown said he would honor such a request, but he could find no note.

At first, Knight considered suing. Then she learned Alabama is one of 22 states where the law protects teachers who paddle children. There is no legal recourse.

"I think corporal punishment is a form of organized child abuse," Knight said. "It is no longer 1865."

By 1865, paddling was already banned in Italy, Holland and Poland. Today, the United States and Canada remain among the few industrialized nations that permit corporal punishment in schools.

It doesn't happen much in Huntsville schools today. Under Superintendent Ann Roy Moore, who took office in 2001, Huntsville has all but spared the rod.

A Huntsville Times report two years ago found 265 paddlings in Huntsville schools in the 1998-99 school year. Today the practice is still allowed, but discouraged. There were just six paddlings in Huntsville between August and December of last year. All six were at Chapman Elementary.

Madison City Schools banned the practice altogether in 1998.

But the principals of Madison County haven't quit swinging.

That same Times report found 1,177 paddlings in Madison County Schools in 1998-99. According to the county's latest figures, there were 1,031 paddlings in the 2001-02 school year.

Knight worked as a teacher in Maryland before returning to Monrovia last year. She would have been fired without debate for hitting a child. Now she is hoping to capture enough attention to end paddling, if not throughout Alabama, then at least in Madison County.

"I hate Alabama. I really do," said Knight, who grew up in Shelby County and attended the University of Montevallo. "Children cannot protect themselves."

Principals differ on paddling

Some county principals, like Brown at Monrovia Middle, say spanking can be effective, but only as a last resort. Other county principals, like Brenda Goodwin at New Hope High, find paddling ineffective and do not permit it.

But all agree parents often ask for the paddle.

Sparkman Middle Principal Ronnie Blair paddled 102 boys last year.

"In most of the paddlings we have, it's requested by the parents," he said. "The thing I dislike the most about this job is paddling someone else's child. I don't like it."

The NAACP has decried paddling, a practice national figures show is twice as likely to involve black males as white males. The American Academy of Pediatrics argues that all children deserve the same basic protection as prisoners and soldiers. Scores of abuse prevention groups, teacher associations, psychologist networks and child care groups have lined up against paddling.

Across the country, corporal punishment is under renewed scrutiny.

Last year, Pennsylvania banned the paddle. Lawmakers in Missouri and Delaware debated a similar ban. Last month, Wyoming lawmakers narrowly killed a bill to end paddling.

Some argue hitting a child teaches that violence is an acceptable solution. Some worry schools are liable for unforeseen injuries.

The four most prolific paddlers of 1999-2000, in order, were Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama and Tennessee. In some hold-out states, the practice is fading. Seven states paddled less frequently in 1999-2000 than did Madison County Schools. Wyoming reported only eight paddlings that year.

Even in Tennessee, last fall a Memphis school board member opposed to corporal punishment printed a flier that compared teachers to prostitutes and porn stars - the only others paid to spank.

In Madison County, paddlings must be conducted outside the classroom. A teacher or administrator must witness the punishment. For older children, the paddler must be of the same gender.

Never hit before

Renesha had never been hit before.

Her mother passed away two years ago. She attended Williams Middle last year in Huntsville. No paddling there. This year, Knight's husband took a job with the military and moved to Monrovia. Renesha moved in.

On Feb. 21, a teacher discovered Renesha hugging a boy in a stairwell. The assistant principal offered a choice: two days of in-school suspension or two licks. Renesha chose to be paddled.

"I didn't want to miss any assignments," she said. She knew about the no-paddling note, but didn't say anything. No one called her aunt before or after the incident.

Knight argues Renesha should not have been given the choice.

"When you start hitting a young woman on the buttocks, you don't know what you are doing to her reproductive organs," Knight said.

At Sparkman High, Assistant Principal Gayle Owens agrees. Sparkman High does not give girls the choice to be paddled.

"We just don't think it's a good idea to paddle a girl," Owens said. "She could be pregnant. You just don't know. And you can't ask."

Same kids targeted

Huntsville Superintendent Moore said paddling too often targets the same kids repeatedly. She also said it's a potential liability if a principal accidentally hits a child's arm or acts without a witness.

For example, paddling without a witness in 2000 cost Ollie Jones her job as principal of Montview Elementary in Huntsville.

Deborah Baker, principal of Chapman Elementary in Huntsville, still paddles. But Baker said she does not act without a parent conference. And she does not paddle older children.

"There have been a few situations where it worked," Baker said. "What can I say?"

In 1979, Sweden became the first country to forbid parents to spank their own children. Nine more European nations, from Germany to Croatia, soon followed suit.

Many here who dislike school paddling share the same sentiment as David Blair, president of the Huntsville school board. He believes paddling can be effective, but only when done by parents in the home.

In schools, corporal punishment won't work without parental support, said Ray Swaim, superintendent of Madison County Schools. Two sets of values will confuse kids.

Alabama law doesn't require principals to contact parents or even honor a request to forgo corporal punishment. But Swaim said county schools will honor all such requests.

Knight said she also sent no-spank notes with her daughters to Endeavor Elementary and Sparkman Middle. An educator, she knows the drill. She saved photocopies.

Notes were not found at Endeavor and Monrovia. A note was found at Sparkman Middle. "We never spank a child at Monrovia whose parents do not want them spanked," said Brown at Monrovia Middle. He said he has tried to call Knight to discuss the situation. He even wrote her a letter. She won't respond.

"I feel like we don't have anything to talk about," Knight said. "He should have called me before the paddling."

Instead, Knight called Oprah.

"Right now my main goal is to exploit," she said. "There are other people in other parts of the United States that don't think about this because they don't even think this is going on."

Tuscaloosa News, Alabama, 11 March 2003

County board exonerated; teacher's case will resume

By Markeshia Ricks
Staff Writer

A federal court judge has dismissed claims filed against the Tuscaloosa County Board of Education in a lawsuit brought by parents of a former Collins-Riverside Middle School student challenging the school system's corporal punishment policy.

"Of course as far as the board, Principal [Glenn] Taylor, and Coach [James] Brittain are concerned, we are pleased with the court's decision," said Ray Ward, attorney for the Tuscaloosa County Board of Education.

"I thought the court made the correct decision, and we are pleased that the court saw fit to dismiss the claims."

Ward said he was disappointed that the lawsuit would proceed against Mike Griffin, the physical education teacher whom Ronald and Rebecca Herbert claim paddled their son, Ryan, with excessive force in October 2001.

Griffin was unavailable for comment Monday evening, but his attorney Mark Boardman said he expects the claims against Griffin to be dismissed also.

"I anticipate that once the remaining evidence is heard the rest of the case will be thrown out," he said.

Boardman represented Collins-Riverside Principal Taylor and physical education teacher Brittain in the lawsuit. The court also dismissed the claims against both men.

The suit, filed May 15, 2002, asked the court to order the school board to change its corporal punishment policy or to train its principals and faculty members to implement punishment without injuring children.

Though disappointed about the claims against the school board being dismissed, Richard Newton, attorney for the Herberts, said the family is pleased that the case against Griffin will move forward.

"Teachers of Mr. Griffin's ilk need to understand that they can be held accountable in a court of law when they abuse the privilege to administer corporal punishment," Newton said.

Newton said he plans to ask the court to reconsider its ruling on the board.

"Hopefully, the board will rethink its policies and the degree to which it condones the actions of teachers like Mr. Griffin."

Copyright 2002 The Tuscaloosa News

blob Follow-up: 11 March 2004 - Suit filed against coach for paddling

Orlando Sentinel, Florida, 11 March 2003

Fewer students feel the sting

By Denise-Marie Balona
Orlando Sentinel

TALLAHASSEE -- Two-thirds of Florida school districts still spank students, although the latest state numbers show that suspensions are increasingly the preferred mode of discipline.

About 11,000 Florida students felt the paddle during the last school year, according to the Florida Department of Education, most of them in small, rural counties. Larger, urban counties are spanking fewer children, opting instead to send them home or sentence them to programs that include "in-school" suspension, where the students are segregated from their classmates.

In Hendry County, a district that ranks second in the state for spankings, veteran educator Rick Shearer said he might suspend more students if it weren't for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. After a few swats, children can return to class.

"We're under pressure for the kids to pass the FCAT and to do the best we can with these kids," said Shearer, principal of Westside Elementary School in Clewiston, south of Lake Okeechobee. "If they're not in school, it's hard."

Hendry County is one of 10 mostly tiny districts that in 2001-02 accounted for the majority of school spankings, about 6,500. Parts of the Panhandle, North Florida and Hendry saw a rise in corporal punishment, while much of the rest of the state saw a drop.

Many Florida school administrators haven't lifted a paddle in years, part of a national trend toward banning the controversial practice altogether.

Administrators at Narcoossee Community School in Osceola County don't spank, even if parents request it.

"I've had a parent pleading if you'll just do it [spank], he'll straighten up," said Principal Jim DiGiacomo, adding that in-school suspension works well to curb discipline problems for his students because they hate the isolation. "You can impose the consequences and you can control what's going on because they are with you."

Schools turned to corporal punishment 10,685 times in the 2001-02 academic year, state records show. That's a tremendous drop from the 124,295 paddlings issued in 1985-86.

The small, rural districts issued the most spankings. Florida's 10 smallest districts, with less than 1 percent of all students, accounted for 10 percent of spankings. In contrast, the 10 largest districts, with 63 percent of the state's total enrollment, accounted for 8 percent of spankings.

More than 240 spankings were reported in four Central Florida counties -- Orange, Osceola, Polk and Lake. However, Dianne Lovett, a district administrator in Orange, said the five incidents reported there appear to be clerical mistakes. Orange banned corporal punishment in 1993, Lovett said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, National Association of Elementary School Principals and other child-advocacy groups oppose corporal punishment, citing research through the years linking childhood paddlings to depression, delinquency and lower rates of college graduation.

A new study by a longtime family violence researcher suggests that spanked children don't read or do math as well as their peers.

'An extension of the parent'

Florida lawmakers let school districts decide what's best, however. About a third of the 67 counties have stopped the practice under pressure from parents and children's advocates, or because they feared lawsuits or complaints to police.

Mike Elmer, whose son, Nick, is a second-grader in DeLand, is glad Volusia County schools no longer paddle. Elmer doesn't spank his child.

"The way I look at it, the school is an extension of the parent and if the parent doesn't do it, why should the school?" Elmer said.

Volusia parent Cheryl Fitzpatrick disagrees. She thinks parents should be able to request spankings because the threat of being sent home may not carry much weight.

"I think you telling them 'You're going to get suspended' probably just makes them happy," she said.

In Polk County, where administrators paddle the most of any Central Florida school system, only some elementary schools still do it. Now, schools mostly suspend students, said Deputy Superintendent Rusty Payne.

"There's a lot of things we suspend for now that I probably would have given kids three licks for," said Payne, a former high school principal of 16 years.

In this regard, Polk is much like the rest of Florida. Suspensions reported statewide during the last school year totaled 480,655, more than double the 202,262 for 1985-86.

Changing behavior

Educators concede that spanking is not always effective, but the same goes for suspensions. Instead of going home to study or contemplate poor behavior, many children end up playing video games and watching television.

In-school suspensions don't provide the same opportunities for classroom discussion and projects, which educators say are key to learning.

Citrus County officials, who rarely spanked children last year, sometimes rely on an alternative center as a way to discipline. Children who repeatedly misbehave or commit serious offenses are transferred to the Renaissance Center, where they can get more academic attention and counseling.

"The purpose of a discipline system is to change behaviors so learning takes place," said Renna Jablonskis, the Citrus schools' director of student services. "Spanking is quick to take effect but it doesn't have a long-term impact."

Small districts often don't have the cash to build and staff alternative centers, though. Neither can they always afford after-school detention programs and in-school suspension programs, administrators said.

Shearer's school in Hendry County was able to offer in-school suspension this year because one employee is used for several tasks, including making copies and monitoring students.

A new attitude

Florida is not the only state where paddling in school is out of favor. About 27 states have banned it outright, as have about 10 countries, including Germany, Sweden and Denmark.

Much of the change in attitude stems from research suggesting that paddling is particularly harmful to elementary-school children, who also are the most likely to be spanked. A new study contends that such punishment may be counterproductive for school officials trying to focus children on their studies.

Murray A. Straus, who co-directs the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, tested 622 children ages 5 and 6 across the country. Those who were spanked by parents scored lower on a standardized exam when tested again two years later, he said.

Straus speculates that learning slows because spankings can cause stress on children's developing brains. He hopes the American public, now obsessed with standardized test scores, takes his study seriously.

"People do say, 'I was spanked and I'm OK' and they're not lying," Straus said. "But it's like smokers saying, 'I smoked all my life and I don't have lung cancer.' It ignores the fact there are lots of people who do."

State Rep. Frank Attkisson, R-Kissimmee, argues that school boards should be able to choose for themselves how to handle behavior problems. One disruptive child, he said, can hinder an entire class's learning.

"We have to balance his [Straus'] concern with the overriding concern that every child gets a year's worth of education with a year's worth of dollars spent," said Attkisson, who said he was spanked at home and in junior high. He also spanked his three kids.

"You have to give tools to school boards and let them be the deciders of what's right for the students."

Prevention is key Irwin Hyman, a child-discipline expert who heads the National Center for the Study of Corporal Punishment and Alternatives in Philadelphia, said the answer to handling behavior problems lies in prevention.

Schools can use praise and rewards to encourage students to concentrate on assignments and behave well. They also can try to figure out why a child is acting out -- and help alleviate the problem.

"When you go to the doctor, they want to diagnose before they prescribe you anything," Hyman said. School districts that spank "are giving the medicine before diagnosing what the problem is."

Hendry County principal Shearer said some answers to school discipline problems may lie within families.

"The kids behave at school pretty much the way they've been allowed to behave at home," he said. "The bottom line is we have to have law and order in the school so teachers can teach and students can learn."

Mobile Register, Mobile, Alabama, 22 March 2003

Paddled student's family files claim

Photos taken day of incident show bruises

By Karen Tolkkinen
Mobile Register

The Jackson family of a 12-year-old special education student, who was paddled in her school last fall, has filed a $3 million claim against the Clarke County School Board, contending the child's rights were violated.

The family's attorney, James D. Sears of Daphne, on Friday showed the Mobile Register photos of bruises he said were left on the girl when teacher Anthony Ezell hit her with a thick piece of carpet molding.

The photos, taken the day of the incident, clearly show two long red marks across her buttocks, as well as about a dozen spidery marks Sears said resulted from the bruises.

The girl's mother, Theresa Coulter, has requested a due process hearing to determine whether school officials followed school board policy and federal law and whether the school system owes them financial compensation.

State law says teachers who use corporal punishment are immune from civil and criminal liability, but only if they follow established board policy.

Sears said the family would probably request the hearing be open to the public. The claim notifies the public agency of the possibility of a federal lawsuit.

Clarke County school system attorney Bruce Wilson said no hearing date has been scheduled.

We've just received it, and we're trying to evaluate it, he said of the family's request for a due process hearing.

Ezell said he paddled the girl, Katelyn McIntyre, and three others when his special education class repeatedly ignored his warnings to settle down. The assistant principal acted as witness, as policy requires. The disciplinary measures worked, Ezell said. His class settled down.

According to the claim, which was filed March 12, the 12-year-old girl was diagnosed as having an attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. School officials have said the girl had a learning disability in reading.

School board policy established in 1987 states that a special education student should not receive corporal punishment until it's determined whether the student's disability caused the misbehavior. Wilson, the school board attorney, reached after the education office closed, faxed the Mobile Register his copy of the policy but said he did not know whether it was current.

Sears said he understands that to be the policy still, and that nobody took that step. Moreover, he said, the school system has never prepared an individual education plan for the girl as required by federal law for all special education students.

Ezell, reached late Friday on his cell phone, said he had read the board's policy and said that the girl was not disciplined for anything related to her disability, which he said was academic, not behavioral.

Teachers have other means to subdue misbehavior among special education students, such as using time-outs and emphasizing good behavior, Sears said.

The use of corporal punishment is a basic failure of intellect, he said. I can't figure out anything else to do, so I'm going to hit him or hit her.

Family members say the Clarke County School System owes them $3 million for emotional distress, physical pain and suffering and extreme and outrageous conduct of the teacher in leveling severe physical abuse.

The family's other requests include:

More training for school personnel in how to work with special education students.

More corporal punishment training for all Jackson Middle School personnel.

An investigation into why carpet molding was used.

Reimbursement for all medical, psychological and psychiatric treatment for the child.

A complete copy of Ezell's personnel record.

The case has been complicated by criminal charges. The girl's older brother, Christopher Anthony Payne, is accused of attacking Ezell in retaliation for the use of corporal punishment.

A Clarke County grand jury declined to indict him, and the Alabama Education Association has asked the Alabama attorney general to prosecute.

blob Follow-up: 23 May 2003 - Witness: Teacher broke policies

Delaware State News, Dover, 27 March 2003

Delaware House forbids corporal punishment

By Joe Rogalsky
Staff Writer

DOVER - The state House of Representatives passed by a 22-16 vote a bill that forbids spanking, paddling and other forms of corporal punishment in the state's public schools.

"It traumatized me the day I faced the paddle," said Rep. Robert J. Valihura, R-Wilmington.

"It was wrong then and it is wrong now."

The House tacked on a technical amendment to Senate Bill 15, so the measure will have to go back to the Senate for a second approval.

A spokesman for Gov. Ruth Ann Minner indicated she would sign SB 15 into law.

Delaware law currently leaves the decision on whether to allow corporal punishment to local school districts.

The vote split largely along county lines, with most Downstate lawmakers voting against it.

"I wanted it left up to local districts," said Rep. Joseph W. Booth, R-Georgetown, a former member of the Indian River School District's board of education.

House Majority Whip Clifford G. "Biff" Lee, R-Laurel, said he could have voted for the bill if an amendment he offered had been adopted.

Rep. Lee sought to allow districts that permit corporal punishment to continue doing so. He said at least three Downstate districts - Laurel, Delmar and Indian River - have rules permitting corporal punishment. However, Rep. Lee said, officials in those districts could not remember the last time they used corporal punishment.

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blob Follow-up: 15 April 2003 - Spanking bill signed

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Copyright Colin Farrell 2003
Page updated: July 2003