The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

19 states still allow corporal punishment in school

File: Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. After a day of public pressure from angry fans and concerned sponsors, the Vikings have reversed course and placed Peterson, who has been indicted on charges or reckless or negligent injury to a child, on the exempt-commissioner’s permission list, the team announced Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. The move will require him to stay away from the team while he addresses the child abuse charges in Texas. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt, File)

While a national debate roils about professional athletes whacking kids, it seems useful to remember that 19 states still allow children to be hit in public school, sometimes to the point of bruising. A federal data analysis found that on average, one child is hit in public school every 30 seconds somewhere in the United States.

While 31 states have now banned corporal punishment, these states still allow it: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming. In many places, parental permission is required — and often given. It is more prevalent in Texas; least prevalent in Wyoming. The last state to abolish it was New Mexico, in 2011.

The practice persists  because some educators and parents believe it helps modify disruptive behavior despite no conclusive evidence that it actually does. Some students are hit for severe infractions of school rules, and others for minor ones, like being tardy.

How many kids get hit? According to an analysis of federal data from 2009-2010, the Children’s Defense Fund reported in 2014 that 838 children were hit on average each day in public school, based on a 180-day school year, which would be 150,840 instances of corporal punishment a year — less than just a few years earlier but still a rather stunning number. African-American students and students with disabilities are disproportionately subject to corporal punishment in school, data shows.

How hard can kids be hit? District and state regulations are different; some, such as in Elizabeton City Schools in Tennessee, say that “bodily injury” is not permitted but many others don’t.  There are numerous lawsuits in various states in which families say that their child has been severely hurt by corporal punishment.

The Florida statute, like others, is not very clear:

(7) “Corporal punishment” means the moderate use of physical force or physical contact by a teacher or principal as may be necessary to maintain discipline or to enforce school rule. However, the term “corporal punishment” does not include the use of such reasonable force by a teacher or principal as may be necessary for self-protection or to protect other students from disruptive students.

In one Florida school, Holmes High School in Bonifay, students in woodshop class actually make the paddles used for corporal punishment, according to this StateImpact Florida story. The paddle, it says, is about “16 inches long, 5 inches wide, and half an inch thick and made of ash wood,” deemed to be a “good size” by the school.

Last February, Jon Stewart on the The Daily Show ripped a state legislator in Kansas, Rep. Gail Finney, who was pushing legislation to allow teachers and parents to whack kids hard enough to bruise. The bill was killed in committee but that doesn’t mean a lot of people don’t think that spanking kids is acceptable. Here’s the video: