Thirteen year-old Payton Lewis is an honors student and an athlete. But when he failed a science test earlier in the school year, he said his teacher told Payton to meet him out in the hallway.
Payton recalled his teachers words. "He said, well, my daddy beat me, and I beat my children, and that's what I'm about to do to ya'll." Payton said his teacher hit him once with a paddle, and extremely hard.
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"I was crying, I was in extreme pain," he said. "I was trying to suck it up, you know, before I got into the classroom, so none of my friends would laugh at me or anything."
For his mother Melissa, the resulting bruise was no laughing matter. "He shows me his bottom, and as soon as I looked at it, it was just rage from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet," she said. Melissa Lewis went to the principal, the police and even to the prosecutor in the tiny Alabama town of Rainsville.
But the person she spoke with in the district attorney's office said there was nothing he could do because Payton's paddling was done by a teacher. In 20 states, including Alabama, it is perfectly legal for a teacher to hit a child.
"You can't even hit a dog, you can't hit a prisoner, but you can hit my child because he made a bad grade? It makes me crazy," Lewis said.
Recent figures from the the federal Department of Education say that more than 200,000 students each year are subjected to corporal punishment. According to the Congressional testimony, up to 20,000 students a year seek medical attention after the event. Generally, the injuries involve bruising and broken blood vessels.
Fashion Designer Marc Ecko Launches Campaign to End Corporal Punishment in Schools
When fashion designer Marc Ecko heard that corporal punishment was still legal, he decided to act. Starting today, he's putting up billboards and launching a website and mobile app that he hopes will allow tens of thousands of young people to bombard lawmakers with e-mails, faxes and phone calls demanding change. "There are just certain habits and cycles that are worth breaking," he said.
Ecko said he hopes to "activate people in a meaningful dialogue." Teachers "striking students in schools is not appropriate. I would say that we owe our students better."
While many organizations have come out against corporal punishment, some psychologists have said that gentle physical punishment can help maintain discipline in schools.
Other Mothers React to Student's Bruises
But Ecko said the problem with corporal punishment is that it's not regulated enough. "There's no one defining the fine line between discipline and child abuse," he said.
Outside Payton's school, Ruth Dukes, another mother, said she supported the paddling of students. "You know, some probably don't get disciplined at home," she said.
But when she saw the pictures of Payton's bruises, clearly in the shape of a paddle, she quickly changed her mind, saying, "that's a little too much."
The school superintendent gave no comment when ABC News asked whether paddling should be better regulated, or ended entirely. The school now says it's stopped paddling because of what happened to Payton.
It's too little, too late for the Lewis family. They're suing the school with the goal of getting that teacher fired, and changing the law.