Legislation to Ban Corporal Punishment in Schools Hits Congress

U.S. Reps. McCarthy, Scott say corporal punishment targets minorities.

June 29, 2010, 12:43 PM

June 29, 2010— -- The debate on corporal punishment reached Washington today where a New York congresswoman introduced legislation to remove paddles from U.S. schools.

While the idea of taking a paddle to a student's backside may seem archaic, even barbaric, it's still a well-regarded form of discipline in some corners of the country, mostly in the South.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., said she's hoping to get her bill folded into a larger education package that could be debated later this year. She told ABCNews.com that she sees corporal punishment as a school safety issue that breeds more problems than it solves.

"We know that children that are paddled end up being more aggressive," she said. "They learned that conflict is handled by striking out and hitting."

McCarthy, who was herself rapped on the knuckles in Catholic school in the 1950s, said the paddle may not leave physical scars, but the emotional toll could last for years. Her legislation, she said, piggybacks on previous federal laws outlawing hitting a child in a Head Start program or a hospital setting.

"When you see where the paddling can actually physically harm a child, those are the wounds you can see," she said.

Bill co-sponsor U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., who was paddled lightly in elementary school, agreed, citing studies showing higher dropout rates for students were who hit in schools.

"It teaches the child that if you don't like what's going on you resort to violence," he told ABCNews.com "What kind of message is that?"

McCarthy said she hasn't gotten public pushbacks on her effort, "but I'm sure I will."

Corporal punishment is seen by some educators as an effective way to curb growing trends of student violence and misbehavior. And new advocates for corporal punishment are making headlines with regularity.

According to the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights projections for 2006, the most current data available, more than 223,000 children got the paddle, compared with more than 3.3 million cases of suspension and more than 102,000 expulsions.

Paddling Opponents Say More Minorities, Special Ed Kids Get Hit

Last week, the school board in Memphis, Tenn., agreed to consider allowing corporal punishment in its schools after teachers said they would like the option, tired of current discipline options failing to make a difference.

According to the Center for Effective Discipline, taking their data from the Office for Civil Rights, Texas took the lead in the 2006-2007 school year with 49,197 students paddled. Mississippi came in second with 38,131, with Alabama close behind at 33,716. Based on the number of students in each state, Mississippi used corporal punishment most often, paddling 7.5 percent of its students that year.

Earlier this year, Gilbert Leal, a tutor with the Dallas Independent School District, led a movement to "Bring Back Licks" in the school system, saying kids needed a reason to fear consequences for their bad behavior.

"There aren't a lot of alternatives to dealing with 20 kids that get out of control because of one," he told ABC News in May. "You can suspend them, send them to the office. We have a great school counselor. ... And when none of that works, what do you do?"

Leal was subsequently released from his job with the Dallas district.

In addition to their argument that paddling only teaches violence with violence, Scott and McCarthy said corporal punishment is used more often on minority and special education students -- black students were more than twice as likely to get hit than white students, they said.

The department's data showed that 53 percent of the children disciplined with corporal punishment were white, compared with 35 percent for black students. But black students make up just 17 percent of the school population, compared with whites at about 56 percent.

McCarthy and Scott suggested schools do less hitting and more positive reinforcement, rewarding children for the behavior educator's expect.

Paddling, Scott said, "does not inform the student as to what they should have done. Maybe what they should not have done."

There is currently no timetable for Congress to debate an education bill. But McCarthy said she's hopeful she'll significantly build on the bill's current 16 co-sponsors in the meantime.

"I have a very strong feeling that I can get this into the major part of the education bill," she said.

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