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Corporal punishment still a major disciplinary tactic

Corporal punishment, thought to have gone the way of longhand and home economics classes, remains a significant mode of discipline in school districts in 21 states across the U.S., according to a new study.

An Education Week Research Center analysis of the most recent wave of federal civil rights data, released this week, found that more than 109,000 students in 4,000 districts were paddled, swatted, or otherwise physically punished in U.S. classrooms in 2013-14. That number is, however, down from 223,900 in 2006.

Seven states have no laws addressing corporal discipline, including Indiana, Idaho and Colorado. The recent data finds that in several states which prohibit corporal discipline, students were physically punished despite laws that prohibit it. 

The 15 states that explicitly allow the practice vary in the number of students enrolled in those schools. In Mississippi, 55 percent of students attend schools that allow it, and in Alabama, the number is 42.9 percent.

Regulation of the practice in allowed states varies.

Texas allows it, unless a parent states in writing that their child not be paddled. The state’s Child Protective Services requires foster parents to opt their students out, citing negative psychological effects the practice carries.

In Utah, corporal punishment is banned, unless a student’s parent or guardian gives written permission.

The states with corporal punishment trends toward the southern tier, including Oklahoma, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi. In Louisiana, administrators must fill out a form, similar to a law enforcement report, documenting the use of corporal punishment.

Many of the states that permit corporal punishment leave it to the local school boards to determine the parameters of the discipline, including Arizona, Arkansas and Wyoming. Some, as in Louisiana, specify the specs on the type of paddle used and the number of swats.

Students in rural or small town districts are more likely to attend schools that use physical discipline than in urban areas, the study found. Suburban students make of 41 percent of the school enrollment where corporal punishment is not allowed.

The practice was allowed in 45 states as recently as 1980, in part due to the 1977 Supreme Court ruling, Ingraham v. Wright, that upheld corporal punishment in Florida’s public schools.

Federal lawmakers have introduced measures to eliminate corporal punishment in public schools several times over the past decade. The bills have sought a number of remedies and sanctions on schools that allow physical discipline. The most recent attempt, a 2015 bill, provides that schools allowing the practice could not receive federal funding and directs the U.S. Department of Education to award grants to assist districts in “improving school climate and culture by implementing school-wide positive behavior supports.”

The bills have so far failed to get past committee status.

Most states that ban corporal punishment by statute have allowances in the law in which physical intervention can be used. In Montana, for example, a district employee may physically intervene to protect themselves or other students, or to protect property.