Saturday, January 12, 2013

Examining Corporal Punishment in Schools

education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)
by Daniel Duerden

School punishment policies became a focal point of national debate when a Texas school made headlines after a student complained of serious injuries after being paddled at school.

Surprisingly, the issue here wasn't initially whether the student should be paddled, but who should have paddled her.

Taylor Santos, a 15-year-old high school student at Springtown High School, rather than take a two day in-school suspension, opted to be paddled.

However, rather than have a female administrator paddle her, the male vice principal paddled her in violation of school policy to have a person of the same sex administer the punishment. The paddling left her with significant injuries.

"It looked almost like it had been burned and blistered, it was so bad," Anna Jorgensen, Santos' mother, said of her daughter's behind. This prompted a complaint by Jorgensen and an investigation into the incident. However, in response, rather than issue any repercussions, the district voted to change the policy to allow opposite sex paddling.

Citing a lack of female administrators to carry out spankings, the district expanded the policy. However, according to the new policy, a same-gender school official must witness the paddling, which is defined as one 'swat.'

Superintendent Michael Kelley explained that the policy isn't necessarily what the media is portraying. "I personally think Texas is getting a black eye because of this," Kelley said to The Associated Press. "People are assuming a school district can do whatever it wants because of this. That's not the case."

The incident has turned the issue of corporal punishment in schools into a national debate with many vocally opposing any form of physical punishment in public schools.

Elizabeth Gershoff, a professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas, Austin explained the dangers of physical punishment. She said that studies have shown that spanking is linked with aggression, delinquency, mental health problems, difficulties in parent-child relationships, and even to lower intelligence.

She continued stating that, while little research has been done on physical punishment in schools, the effects could be even worse. "It might even be more likely to have a negative impact, because students don't have as close a relationship with their teachers or their principals as they do their parents," Gershoff said to LiveScience.

In spite of the outcry against the practices, it is unlikely that it will go away anytime soon. Texas is one of 19 states that offer corporal punishment as an option for disciplining students, and in each case, before a student is paddled, parents must give consent.

As long as parents are willingly giving the school permission to physically punish their children, the practice will continue, and all the media outcry in the world will not do anything. The Springtown School District is an example of this. They expanded their policy when many felt they should have abandoned the policy.

If these policies are to be abandoned, then parents must be at the forefront by not allowing their students to be spanked.

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