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Battle over the paddle

Burlington Elementary second-grader Andrew Maynard was almost paddled this week, before Andrew said he decided to shape up a little bit.

Though Andrew wasn't sure what caused the switch in behavior, his step-sister, Talynn Burgess, is quick to answer.

"Because he doesn't wanna get whipped with the paddle," she said with a grin.

While she keeps close tabs on her step-brother's activities, the second-grader said she's never gotten close to being the subject of a paddling.

"And I don't intend to," Talynn said, laughing.

Why?

"Because I'm too good!"

Burlington is just one of the schools in the South Point district that allow paddling, a practice which some feel is a necessary educational and disciplinary tool, no matter how much anti-corporal punishment groups may disagree with the practice.

Number three with a paddle

Of the 611 school districts in Ohio, only 23 reported utilizing paddling last year. Three of those are in Lawrence County, which has a higher concentration than any other county in the state. Ironton City Schools, Fairland Local and South Point Local all used corporal punishment in 2003-2004 school year.

With 56 paddlings administered last school year, the third-highest total in the state, South Point in particular has come under fire from anti-corporal punishment groups such as the Columbus-based Center for Effective Discipline. In comparison, Ironton schools reported six paddlings and Fairland reported three.

That number is actually down from 2002-2003, in which South Point schools reported 74 paddlings, which set them at fourth in the state.

Laura Maynard is Andrew's mother. She is one of the many South Point parents who says she doesn't have a problem with the practice, on principle, as long as it is warranted.

"I guess I agree with it, if it's needed," Maynard said.

A last resort

Nadine Block, Executive Director of the Center for Effective Discipline, said that although it has been outlawed in many states, in the locations (such as Ohio) where the practice continues, it's largely out of habit.

"In many ways, the community supports it, they think it works, they've done it forever, and they don't know what they'd do without it," Block said. "There are people who just believe that hitting children is necessary for them to grow up."

Mark Christian is the principal of Burlington Elementary. He regularly applies paddlings, but says that he uses them only as a last resort, in accordance with policy. He wrote his college thesis on corporal punishment, and believes it is an effective discipline not just for the students who are spanked, but also the ones who aren't.

"The kids who do not get paddled, I think it's a deterrent for them," Christian said. "I know I got paddled in school, and I worried about getting paddled in school, and that kind of molded the decisions I made, so I assume it's still the same way. So, I think it works especially as a deterrent. We seldom give a second paddling. Usually, they get one and that's it."

Paddling and abuse

Whether or not the schools believe the practice is effective, Block said she and her group firmly oppose all forms of corporal punishment, which, in their opinion, is abuse.

"I had a principal say that he was trying put some respect back in school, and I said 'How would your wife feel about that, if you gave her a swat? Is she going to respect you?' No, she's going to be angry and humiliated just like kids are," Block said. "Especially hitting them with boards - we're not allowed to do that to anybody, not even animals."

Christian dismisses Block's equivocation of paddling and abuse. He believes that the far worse treatment for children is to let bad behavior to go unpunished.

"To me, it's abusive not to discipline a child, because things can escalate and get worse as they get older," Christian said. "I think there should be more discipline than there is. Kids today are nothing like we were as kids."

A gray area

The law in Ohio does not permit corporal punishment outright. In order for school districts to utilize it, they must develop a task force to review the issue and decide on its viability.

According to Ohio state law, those task forces "must include teachers, administrators, non-licensed school employees, school psychologists, members of the medical profession, pediatricians, when available, and representatives of parents' organizations."

The law also states that parents or guardians may elect for their children not to be subjected to corporal punishment if they so wish. In this case, some alternate form of punishment (such as suspension or detention) must be utilized.

Christian said that he always has written permission from parents, who he estimates choose the option of paddling 90 to 95 percent of the time.

Spare the rod

"It's just an administrative convenience. People seem to think that corporal punishment works, it doesn't," Block said. "It works, but it works to teach kids that might makes right and don't get caught next time."

In her nine years with the Center for Effective Discipline, Block said she had seen nothing before the state legislature that would classify corporal punishment as a research-based method.

"The only testimony that came before the state was 'I got spanked when I was a kid and I turned out OK,' or 'The Bible says,' or 'If we stop hitting kids there will be chaos,' all personal, all anecdotal with nothing to support it," Block said.

To those who would quote the biblically based "spare the rod, spoil the child" philosophy, Block sites Deuteronomy 21:18-21, which calls for misbehaving sons to be taken before the village elders and stoned to death.

"Do we stone children because it says so in the Bible?" Block said. "No."

The battle

Despite the feelings of the Center for Effective Discipline and similar groups, paddling continues to be a way of life in some Lawrence County schools. There's no sign of a truce either, as groups on both sides of the battle of the paddle refuse to budge on corporal punishment.

Justin McElroy is a staff reporter for The Ironton Tribune. To reach Justin, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 14 or by e-mail justin.mcelroy@irontontribune.com.