The Obama administration Tuesday called for an end to corporal punishment in states and school districts that continue to allow the practice.
In a letter to governors and state school leaders, U.S. Education Secretary John B. King, Jr., called corporal punishment “harmful, ineffective, and often disproportionately applied to students of color and students with disabilities.”
He urged states that had not yet ended corporal punishment — generally defined as paddling, caning or otherwise using physical force to inflict pain as punishment — to “eliminate this practice from your schools, and instead promote supportive, effective disciplinary measures.”
While corporal punishment is banned in 28 states and the District of Columbia, there are 15 states that permit the practice and seven more that do not expressly prohibit it.
A study published in January and released by the Brookings Institution found that seven states accounted for 80 percent of in-school corporal punishments in the United States: Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and Oklahoma.
More than 110,000 students received corporal punishment in the 2013-2014 school year, according to the Education Department’s Civil Rights Data Collection. Of those students, King wrote in his letter, more than a third are black despite that group making up just 16 percent of the public school population.
The data also show that students with disabilities were subjected to corporal punishment at a rate higher than students without disabilities.
“These data shock the conscience,” King said in a conference call with reporters on Monday.
He said the practice, which in some cases has resulted in serious injuries to students, has been linked to negative health and academic outcomes for students and is opposed by a range of groups, including parent organizations, teachers unions, medical and mental health organizations and civil rights advocates.
“Notably, the very acts of corporal punishment that are permissible when applied to children in schools under some state laws would be prohibited as criminal assault and battery when applied to adults in the community in those very same states,” King said.
King was joined in the conference call by Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, Nathan R. Monell, executive director of the National PTA and Fatima Gross of the National Women’s Law Center.
All of the participants argued that corporal punishment is not successful at improving behavior or academic achievement, and often has a negative impact in both areas. They also pointed to the minor infractions that often result in physical punishment, including being late for school or not turning in homework.
“What we know is that these sorts of severe discipline policies don’t work. They leave students feeling unwelcome and unsafe at school,” Gross said. “Corporal punishment of adults has been banned in prisons and in military training facilities and it’s time we do the same for our nation’s schoolchildren.”
Weingarten, who said the practice should have been banned “by all 50 states years and years ago” emphasized that the incoming administration of president-elect Donald Trump should embrace opposition to corporal punishment.
“This is not just a November 15 issue,” Weingarten said. “This is a January 21st issue. It doesn’t actually matter who the secretary of education is or what people’s view is about the election. This is a moral matter. This is a matter that we must all be — I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, a conservative or a progressive — we must all be about safe and welcoming places for all students.”