July 23, 2008 -- It may be a declining practice in American schools, frowned upon by most child psychologists, but school officials in one Georgia county are reinstituting corporal punishment for students who misbehave.
When school resumes after summer vacation, principals in Twiggs County will be allowed to use paddles to spank students who don't respond to detention or other forms of discipline, reaffirming a policy that had lain dormant in the county since 2006.
The district is one of at least 150 school systems in the state that allow corporal punishment, according to school board chairman David Sanders, who said the practice is reserved for "acts that are so anti-social or disruptive as to shock the conscience."
Sanders told ABCNews.com that he has not experienced opposition from parents and said students will only be paddled if their parents have given their permission at the start of the school year. The paddling also has to be witnessed by another teacher or school staffer, he said. Students as young as 4 can receive the punishment, according to school policy.
Sanders does not know, however, the last time that a student was punished physically in the county's school district.
The once-common practice, which involves smacking a student's backside with a wooden paddle, has been abolished in 29 states and is still legal in 21 states, although it is only routinely practiced in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas and Tennessee.
Some states, including California, Illinois and New York, have banned corporal punishment in public schools, but allow it in private schools.
The practice has rapidly declined in recent decades – in 1980, 1.4 million students were paddled compared to 223,000 students in the 2006-07 school year. Less than half of one percent of students are punished this way in U.S. public schools.
'Kids Need a Good Paddling'
Yet parents in Twiggs County seem supportive of the policy.
Sallie Walters, the mother of a child in the Twiggs County Elementary School, said she believes the school's decision to allow teachers to use physical punishment is a good one.
"If a kid misbehaves really badly, he should get spanked so he won't do it again," Walters said. "And I think it will work for those delinquents out there. I will definitely sign the permission slip for my child."
Edward Huston, who has two daughters, one entering ninth grade and another going into 12th grade, agreed with the county's policy.
"Kids are so bad these days they need a good paddling," he said. "I tell my daughters, 'If the teacher whups you, I'm going to whup you too when you get home.'"
Huston blames parents, saying that talking to misbehaving children only enables their bad behavior.
"When I was in New York and I visited my stepson's classroom, the kids were acting up and it was out of control," he said.
Discipline problems were one of the factors that led school board members to reactivate corporal punishment.
Last year, a state report listed 300 incidents of student misconduct and 62 violent fights in Twiggs County, a district with approximately 1,100 students.
Middle school students misbehave the most, according to Levi Rozier, the campus police chief of the county's public schools.
Does Paddling Kids Increase Drop-Out Rates?
Although his children do not attend a school that allows corporal punishment, Rozier said that, if it were offered, he would sign a permission slip to let his children's teachers beat his kids with a paddle. Rozier said he spanks his children at home when they misbehave.
"Kids don't wanna get spanked, but when you're working in line with parents, it works pretty good because it's a great deterrent," he said. "The alternative to getting the two or three licks is to go home. So that's the objective: to keep the kids in school. I think it works very well."
But some parents and researchers believe that corporal punishment encourages quite the opposite.
"Not surprisingly, the states with the highest rates of corporal punishment have the highest rate of dropout," said Jordan Riak the founder and executive director of nospank.net, a non-profit organization he founded after his sons were physically punished at their school in Australia. "Good teachers don't hit children. All you have to look at is the highest-performing school districts in the United States."
In his research, Riak found that within the United States, seven of the 10 states with the highest rates of school paddling were also among the states with the top 10 highest rates of lynching during the slavery era. Riak said he believes that beating children teaches them that once they're in a position of authority, they can control a person with physical force.
"Most of the civilized world and the best-run schools don't use corporal punishment," he said. "In the most extreme, you could relate student spanking to restoring order to the American family by allowing a husband to smack his wife so that she won't open bank accounts or not divorce him. I don't think anybody in their right mind would say we could control divorce rates if we let husbands smack their wives."
Paddling Gets Compliance, Linked to Aggression
Leading child psychologists have found that the practice has troubling consequences for children.
A 2002 study by the American Psychological Association found "strong associations" between corporal punishment and negative behaviors such as increased child aggression and antisocial behavior. The only positive behavior linked to the practice was increased immediate compliance on the part of the child.
Nadine Block, a former school psychologist and the executive director of the Center for Effective Discipline, said the practice has been banned in more than 106 countries and that corporal punishment does psychological as well as physical harm to children.
"It doesn't get at the problem – it's an administrative quick fix where the teacher is happy and the kid is crying," she said. "What does it teach the kid about what to do in the future? [Teachers] are supposed to be teaching life skills. If your employee comes in late, what do you do? Give them a swat?"
Teacher Sued, But Unrepentant
Some teachers have been sued for engaging in the practice and lawmakers have been stymied in their attempts to legalize the practice in their states.
Ted Anderson, a history teacher and basketball coach at Douglas High School in Memphis, Tenn., was sued by a student at his former high school after he paddled the boy for disrespecting him.
The case was eventually dismissed but Anderson was suspended from his position and the city banned the practice in city schools.
Anderson is unrepentant and said he wishes that corporal punishment would be reinstated.
"Students will say anything to teachers now," he said. "I was transferred to a middle school where some sixth-grader called me a 'bald-headed motherf-----.'"
Elizabeth Stevens initially allowed her 12-year-old son to be paddled at the Alternative Education Center in North Carolina's McDowell County.
But when he came home with his backside bruised black and blue last December, she withdrew him and home-schooled him.
"If they do say yes, they are giving those people the authority to beat the crap out of their child with no recourse," she told the Asheville Citizen-Times.
McDowell County school officials did not return calls for comment.
Shirley Love, a state senator in West Virginia, attempted to legalize the practice but he could never get the bill out of committee.
"There were various incidents in the state where students had rebelled against teachers and it seemed like there was no discipline," Love said. "But it just didn't catch on [in the legislature]. You can't run your fist through a brick wall."
Love said he believes that it is a generational difference, explaining that lawmakers under the age of 40 were against the practice. He said that being paddled as a boy straightened him out.
"I was scared to death of the principal's paddle because he had one that had three little holes in it, to draw suction and air in it, which made punishment all the worse," he said.