The parents of a 3-year-old District Heights child say their son was badly bruised when he was paddled by the principal of Capitol Christian Academy for misbehaving.
The child and a 6-year-old brother have been withdrawn from the school following the incident Wednesday.
Lorraine Croce said her son came home from kindergarten class at the private school with "his hands black and blue -- you couldn't see his knuckles -- and his behind was black and blue."
It also was learned that a 12th grade student who comforted the boy after the paddling and reported the incident to her parents has been withdrawn or expelled because of her involvement.
The Rev. Ellsworth McIntyre, Rincipal of the fundamentalist Christian academy in Prince George's County, acknowledged that he paddled the boy after the 3-year-old was caught fighting with his classmates.
He said the child's black-and-blue knuckles could have been caused by the fighting or by the child's efforts to block the paddle, which is slightly larger and thicker than a ping pong paddle.
Corporal punishment is prohibited in Prince George's and most other Washington area public schools, but it is not illegal in private schools. The Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that corporal punishment, even if it is severe, does not violate a child's constitutional rights.
A spokesman for the state's attorney's office said police and prosecutors looked into the case but decided not to prosecute. There was "no child abuse case there," the spokesman said. "Nothing was done maliciously."
McIntyre said paddling is used in the school for severe breaches of discipline by students of any age and that parents are told that before their children are enrolled.
Parents also sign a form giving Capitol Christian authority to discipline students, although the form doesn't specifically mention corporal punishment, he said.
Croce said she sent her two boys to Capitol Christian Academy this year for the first time because "I wanted them to get a good education and religious training. But I didn't know the paddled."
She said the first time she learned of the school's paddling practices was about three weeks ago when MacIntyre called her to say that her older son had been punished for "rough housing in the bathroom."
Although MacIntyre said he discussed his use of corporal punishment with Croce at her preenrollment interview, Croce denies that the issue ever came up.
"As God is my witness, he specified nothing, but nothing, about corporal punishment," she said. "I wouldn't admit my kid in a school with corporal punishment."
When Croce's husband brought Clay home that day, "Could do nothing but hold my baby and cry," Croce said. "His hands were so swollen it hurt him to hold anything. I had to hand feed him."
McIntyre said, "We have a very good check and balance" on the use of corporal punishment. "The teacher had warned her (Croce) several times" before the child was paddled, he added.
Croce said the boy's teacher had told her a few times that her son was "having problems. He was babyish, doing some pushing and shoving.But really, how much fighting can a 3-year-old do?"
McIntyre also disputed the account of the 12th grader's parents, who asked not to be identified.
They said their daughter was expelled from the school because of her involvement in the incident.
"They were trying to keep it low key, and we found out about it and told people about it," the girl's father said.
MacIntyre said the parents had bad relations with the school administration long before the paddling occurred and just used that incident to remove their two daughters from the school. The school did not expell the 12th grader, he said.
"The parents withdrew those children. They withdrew them in anger. Their pride got in the way" MacIntyre said.