March 16, 2012 -- It is one of the most controversial methods of child discipline, but spanking in school -- usually with a wooden or fiberglass paddle -- is still allowed by law in 19 states. The practice is most prevalent in the Midwest and South. According to a report from the Juvenile Information Exchange, more than 28,500 students in Georgia were spanked in 2008, mostly in rural counties. The number is much smaller in Florida -- around 3,600 last year -- but that's where the issue is getting new attention.
For the second year in a row, NPR reported, a Florida lawmaker is trying to ban corporal punishment in schools there; last year the measure never made it to the floor for a full vote.
Opponents of the ban say spanking is matter of tradition and good old-fashioned discipline. But at least one Florida mom is suing to stop the practice. Tenika Jones says the principal at the Joyce BullockElementary School in Levy County paddled her 5-year-old so severely last April that he cried for hours, triggering an asthma attack, which in turn required a trip to the emergency room.
The boy was spanked for roughhousing with another student on a school bus. Jones said her son had welts on his buttocks, missed a week of school and still has nightmares about the incident.
"That's child abuse to me," the 32-year old told reporters, "If they don't want us to hit our kids, they shouldn't either." Principal Jaime Handlin declined to comment, citing the on-going legislation, but she did tell the Willston Pioneer newspaper that "nothing was violated."
She added, "I disciplined out of love, not anger."
Researchers have found that spanking can increase aggressiveness in children and can even hurt the mental development of young children.
"Corporal punishment doesn't get us the results we want," said Deborah Sendek, program director of the Center for Effective Discipline, a group that advocates against corporal punishment. "You can get the same result from an intervention – simply telling and teaching children to stop the behavior."
Sendek says the practice is not only ineffective, it can also teach children that hitting is acceptable. Sendek, who has worked in with abused and neglected children for three decades, says children who are hit ultimately learn to avoid the punisher, not the behavior.
She cited a number of instances in which children were seriously injured and asked why so many American children are subject to this type of punishment.
"We're not allowed to hit a prisoner. We do not hit in the military," Sendek said, "Why do we give prisoners more protection than we give our schoolchildren?
Even if parents do not agree with corporal punishment, there is little they can do, if a school district permits it, to guarantee that their child will not be hit by an administrator if she or he misbehaves. Sendek says her group suggests that parents who want to opt out of that type of discipline should send a letter to the principal and school administrators at the beginning of each school year, and make sure that their concerns are put in the child's permanent record. She also recommends reviewing the school district's disciplinary policies and voicing any concerns at parent/teacher conferences or school board meetings before a child is ever hit.
States That Allow Spanking (Source: Center for Effective Discipline)AlabamaArizonaArkansasColoradoFloridaGeorgiaIdahoIndianaKansasKentuckyLouisianaMississippiMissouriNorth CarolinaOklahomaSouth CarolinaTennesseeTexasWyoming