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The Answer Sheet: Teachers hitting kids? Yes

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 13, 2011; 10:08 PM

Most people are rightly horrified about the case of a first-grade teacher at a Silver Spring elementary school who was recently charged with several counts of assault after being accused of choking and/or punching eight young students.

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Adults assaulting students at school? That has to be wrong, right? Wrong.

The case in Montgomery County public schools serves as a good reminder that legal whacking, better known as corporal punishment, is still allowed in 20 states and administered to hundreds of thousands of students a year.

Yes, hundreds of thousands. And many thousands seek medical treatment afterward.

Corporal punishment is, according to the National Association of School Nurses, "the intentional infliction of physical pain as a method of changing behavior. It may include methods such as hitting, slapping, punching, kicking, pinching, shaking, use of various objects (paddles, belts, sticks, or others) or painful body postures."

Supporters of corporal punishment say that it is an effective punishment for bad behavior and that kids learn lessons from being hit. Nurses, principals and teachers associations - and many studies on the subject - say otherwise.

In June, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) introduced the Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act, which would ban corporal punishment as a form of punishment or way to modify undesirable behavior at all public and private schools with students that receive federal services.

Congress apparently had other things to do. The bill was sent to a committee but never made it further in the legislative process.

School districts that allow corporal punishment have their own rules for how to administer it - and they can be extremely specific. They can, for example, spell out exactly how many times a student can be hit at one time; the rules usually identify which part of the body can be struck (usually the buttocks, but sometimes the hands, too).

Last year a congressional committee had a hearing on the issue. The panel learned that:

l School officials, including teachers, administered corporal punishment to 223,190 schoolchildren across the nation during the 2006-07 school year (according to conservative government estimates, the latest year for which national statistics were available).

l As a result of that punishment, 10,000 to 20,000 students requested medical treatment.

l Students are typically hit on their buttocks with a wooden paddle, about 15 inches long, two to four inches wide and a half-inch thick, with a six-inch handle at one end.

l Most students are paddled for minor infractions, such as violating a dress code, being late for school, talking in class or in the hallway, or being "disrespectful."

l Almost 40 percent of all the cases of corporal punishment occur in Texas and Mississippi.

l Current studies indicate that physical punishment is most common in kindergarten through eighth grade, in rural schools, in boys, and in disadvantaged and nonwhite children.

l African American students are 17 percent of all public school students in the United States but are 36 percent of those who are victims of corporal punishment, more than twice the rate of white students.

Now that's something to get upset about.


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