“I thought this was already done. I did not realize this was still a thing,” Aurora Public Schools board member Michael Carter told lawmakers at a hearing for a bill that would ban the practice. “One of the things that everybody in here knows, I believe, is that it does not work.” Carter said he was physically disciplined as a student in Texas in the 1980s.
The Colorado General Assembly appears set to pass the bill, one of several state legislative efforts this year to get rid of school-based corporal punishment for good. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona sent a letter to education and government officials Friday calling for an end to the use of physical discipline such as paddling in the 23 states where it is "either expressly allowed or not expressly prohibited."
A body of research suggests it can make children's behaviors worse and undermine their academic achievement. Data also shows immense disparities in which kids are most often subjected to such discipline: Boys and Black students are more likely than girls and children of other races to be physically punished in school. Tens of thousands of students were still subjected to corporal punishment in public schools as recently as 2018, federal data shows.
Cardona’s predecessors under President Barack Obama, Arne Duncan and John King Jr., similarly sent out letters in 2014 and 2016 calling for an end to the practice nationwide.
Yet state legislation proposing to ban corporal punishment continues to face resistance. One district in Missouri reinstated the practice last year.
Here’s a look at some of this year's legislative efforts to ban corporal punishment – and how some of its supporters have defended it.
'We've had people actually thank us': Missouri school district reinstates spanking as punishment
Oklahoma: Does the Bible justify corporal punishment?
Earlier this month, the Oklahoma House failed to muster enough votes for a Republican-written bill to prohibit using corporal punishment with students with disabilities.
One of the most vocal opponents: Republican Rep. Jim Olsen, who in his remarks on the House floor dismissed opposition to the practice from organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics. “I disagree” that it’s a bad idea, Olsen said, “And I have a higher authority.”
That authority? God, according to Olsen, who recited various Bible verses to make his point. Among them was the line “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.”
While the bill garnered more yes votes than no's, it failed to get majority approval and pass out of the chamber. Now, after significant negative press, an amended bill that would bar the practice for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities is advancing.
Maryland, New York: Efforts to ban physical discipline in private schools
Lawmakers in New York state introduced several bills this session that would ban corporal punishment in private schools. The legislation came partly in response to a New York Times investigation last year documenting the regular use of corporal punishment in Hasidic schools, among other practices.
The investigation revealed instances in which students who had been disciplined wound up calling 911 and prompted a range of legislative responses seeking to strengthen accountability of private schools. A spokesman for a group that advocates for Hasidic schools say they take a zero tolerance approach to corporal punishment.
A similar, though less high-profile, effort to clamp down on corporal punishment in private schools is underway in Maryland. While the state has a 3-decade-old ban on the practice, a legal loophole allows for its use in private educational and care settings.
A House bill being considered by the Senate would explicitly prohibit corporal punishment in such schools.
The bill’s sponsor, Delegate Eric Ebersole, said his wife, an author and former teacher, inspired him to introduce the legislation. Tara Ebersole is writing a novel partly based on her experiences using corporal punishment in Tennessee in the 1980s.
Where paddling is still legal: Tens of thousands of students subjected to corporal punishment
Mississippi: The ‘most punitive’ state in the US
Mississippi “is unrivaled as the state with the most punitive discipline,” according to an analysis published last year by the nonprofit Lives in the Balance.
The state accounted for nearly 30% of all recorded school-based incidents of corporal punishment in the U.S. in 2017-18, the most recent year for which federal data were available. Several years before that, nearly half of the Black girls nationally who had been physically punished in schools were in Mississippi.
Still, three bills last year that sought to prohibit or reduce corporal punishment failed to pass out of the state Senate and House education committees.
Mississippi has, however, seen a significant decline in rates of corporal punishment over the past few years largely thanks to a 2019 law banning its use among students in special education.
Instances of its use fell by more than 23,000 between 2016-17 and 2021-22, according to an analysis of state data by The 74, an education-focused news outlet. Districts across the state have worked to replace physical discipline with more restorative practices.
Despite the shift, corporal punishment was used 4,300 times in the state last year.
In Mississippi and elsewhere, advocates worry about a return to harsh discipline in response to concerns about post-pandemic student misbehavior and safety concerns.
Suspensions, handcuffs, jail: Middle school discipline falls heavily on vulnerable kids
Contact Alia Wong at (202) 507-2256 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @aliaemily.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Corporal punishment in school is harmful but in some states, it's legal