Public schools in 21 states still hit kids -- and black students are disproportionately affected

Although corporal punishment is on the decline throughout the country, more than 109,000 students across 21 states were physically disciplined in the 2013 — 2014 school year, a new Education Week report has found.

Hitting, spanking, paddling, or other forms of corporal punishment also disproportionately affected African-American students, who comprise 38% of those who were physically disciplined, despite making up just 22% of all students who attend schools that allow the practice.

White students, meanwhile, make up 50% of those physically disciplined, but comprise 60% of students enrolled.

The report also noted a distinct lack of policies and procedures that guide schools and staff on when, how, and how severely to physically punish kids.

While certain schools use stricter policies that specify the size of a paddle or the number of spanking strikes that can be used on students, no broad consensus has emerged among districts or states regarding how many times or how hard a child should be struck, or how staff should be trained to do so.

“I’ve been (using the paddle) a long time and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone offer training,” Tennessee superintendent Daryl Scoggin told Education Week. “It’s kind of like, I had it done to me, and so I knew what I needed to do. I guess it’s more that you learn by watching.”

Parental consent, too, varies between states, Education Week found. While some states, such as Utah, require parents’ written permission for physical discipline, others, including Texas, allow the practice unless parents specifically opt out.

Using the most recent data available from the Civil Rights Data Collection, Education Week found that Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Oklahoma were the states that used corporal punishment the most.

Education Week even found that some schools reported physically punishing students, even in states that barred the practice — although it’s unclear whether those numbers were incorrectly reported.

The federal education department also has no policy prohibiting K-12 schools from using physical discipline — those laws are left to the states. But the government has been encouraging schools through its “ReThink Discipline” initiative to emphasise safety and supportiveness in their discipline practices, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

“The Department of Education strongly believes that states have the power to change,” Deputy Assistant Secretary Tanya Clay House told AP. “We know that the use of corporal punishment tends to be intertwined with other factors, such as a child’s race or disability status.”

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