Tina Bojanowski’s memory was made more than 30 years ago, yet in a handful of states — including Kentucky — it seems the times have not changed, as the practice is still legal there. Now a member of the state legislature, Rep. Tina Bojanowski (D) is supporting a bill to prohibit corporal punishment.
State Rep. Steve Riley (R) sponsored H.B. 202. which, if passed, would ban school district officials from using corporal punishment as a form of discipline. The legislation defines corporal punishment as “deliberate infliction of physical pain on a student by any means intended to punish or discipline the student, including but not limited to paddling, shaking, or spanking.”
“When someone is doing something wrong, the most important thing is to change their behavior. There are more effective measures to change students’ behavior than striking them,” Riley, a former high school principal, told The Washington Post.
There’s been a national downward trend in corporal punishment in schools, according to research by Kids Count Data Center. In 2016, the Obama administration called for an end to the practice in all states and school districts. Thirty-one states have barred the practice, but 19 still permit it, Riley said.
Joe Bargione, a licensed psychologist, said the research is clear: There are better ways to discipline children. “In order to correct misbehavior, you must teach a replacement behavior. Corporal punishment teaches them to use physical force to resolve an issue or problem solve,” said Bargione, who served as the lead psychologist in Kentucky’s Jefferson County Public Schools for 25 years. (Jefferson banned corporal punishment in 1990.)
Bargione said that “schools must be sanctuaries.” When children who live in homes with domestic violence and uncertainty come to school, Bargione said, they should feel structure and consistency and be loved by the adults in the building. But, he said, “when a teacher hits, it breaks the relationship we want adults to have at school with children.”
In Kentucky, 17 school districts permit corporal punishment. According to research done by the Kids Count Data Center, during the 2017-2018 academic year, there were 452 reported instances of such punishment in the state.
Of those 17 districts, five accounted for 85 percent of cases. Bell County reported 129 incidents, the highest in Kentucky for the academic year. Clinton County, the second highest, reported 128 incidents, a figure more than seven times the 17 incidents reported during 2016-17. Neither county schools superintendent responded to The Post for comment.
Pulaski and Harlan counties reported increases in instances of corporal punishment, to 67 and 30 cases, respectively.
Riley presented the legislation to the state House Education Committee earlier in February, but the bill was not voted on. Similar bills were also introduced in 2017 and 2018 but not passed.
The Kentucky school districts that permit paddling are predominantly in rural areas, according to Riley. Their legislators who oppose the bill argue they want to protect against government overreach. “They say that discipline should be left to local school board, not state government,” Riley said.
With eight days left in the legislative session, Riley said, H.B. 202 is unlikely to be voted on imminently. But, he added, “I’m going to keep proposing until it gets passed."