In 19 states, it’s legal for teachers or principals to punish public school students by hitting them repeatedly instead of just giving them detention.
This map from the Center for Effective Discipline shows the 19 states, in red, which have laws allowing corporal punishment in schools. Shown in white are the 31 states that have banned corporal punishment, most recently in Ohio in 2009 and New Mexico in 2011.
In practice, it’s becoming less common for schools to administer corporal punishment — even in states that technically allow it. Business Insider editor Erin Fuchs, for example, grew up in suburban Atlanta in the ’90s and doesn’t recall teachers ever hitting her classmates.
But we were surprised to learn from a new database from the U.S. Department of Education that public schools hit kids as recently as 2011, the year the data was collected. (One Texas school district administered corporal punishment to more than 120 kids that year alone.)
Corporal punishment usually comes in the form of paddling, according to a 2009 report by Human Rights Watch and American Civil Liberties Union (HRW/ACLU). Teachers or principals may strike students three or more times on the buttocks or upper thighs with a wooden paddle, which is often 15 inches long. In some cases, paddles are made from shaved-down baseball bats. Students may also be hit with a hand or taped-together rulers.
Estimates from the Department of Education’s 2006 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) show a total of 223,190 students without disabilities received corporal punishment nationwide that year, 78.26% of whom were male. Among that number, black students were also targeted disproportionately — 35.67% received corporal punishment, although they only made up 17.13% of the student population.
Students are typically directed to stand in a bent-over position with their hands on a desk or chair, according to the HRW/ACLU report. However, several families interviewed in the HRW/ACLU report said school staff members had pinned their children face-down on the floor.
A father of an 11-year-old boy in Texas with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia gave an account in the HRW/ACLU report of his son’s experience being allegedly paddled by his principal in 2009:
The first swat knocked [my son] down … when he fell, the principal said he had five seconds to get back up, or he’d start all over again … it probably took him a minute and a half to get up again. They gave him two more swats. Then the principal had to go to the nurse’s office to get the asthma inhaler, [my son] couldn’t breathe … When he came home from school, my wife found the marks on him. … He had severe bruising on his buttocks and on his lower back. His butt was just covered.
Business Insider’s own Jason Merriman gave his own account of being paddled by his public school teacher in seventh-grade in southwestern Ohio in 1996. He received the punishment for mumbling a curse at his teacher after she reprimanded him for bad behaviour:
“No one heard it except for a student beside me who blabbed out, ‘Did you hear what he said?,’ to which I was immediately taken out to the hallway for questioning,” Merriman said. “After a brief interrogation I admitted my offence. Quickly thereafter she got the paddle and a neighbouring classroom teacher to witness while she paddled me three times, and then a fourth for standing up too quickly. This was a serious paddle about two feet long and six inches wide, bringing plenty of tears and crying.”
Merriman’s parents were not informed beforehand and did not approve of the punishment.
“This did not sit well with my father, and he proceeded to visit the school the following day and give the principal and teacher all out hell,” Jason recalled. “That being said, I was probably better behaved for the rest of the year, albeit a touch scarred for life.”
In some areas, corporal punishment persists because schools think it’s effective. One example is Florida’s Marion County Public Schools district, which Education Week reported had banned corporal punishment three years ago before school board members voted to reinstate it this school year for aggressive or violent offenses.
School officials felt paddling was an effective and popular alternative to out-of-school suspension.
“When students receive out-of-school suspension, they miss out on instruction time, and the teacher is not obligated in any way to help that student catch up,” one principal told Education Week. “In elementary school, that’s like a vacation. That’s not a punishment.”
Among the 19 states permitting corporal punishment, some use it more frequently than others. This chart is based on 2006 CRDC data.
The HRW/ACLU report also points out that students with disabilities are paddled at disproportionately high rates, shown in this 2006 CRDC chart.
Students who are paddled in schools may suffer serious physical injury and mental trauma, critics of corporal punishment say. “Studies show that beatings can damage the trust between educator and student, corrode the educational environment, and leave the student unable to learn effectively, making it more likely that she will drop out of school,” the HRW/ACLU report cautions.
To see how many disabled and non-disabled students received corporal punishment in your school in 2011-2012, visit this database and search for your school.
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