Paddle policy stuck in committee

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 26, 2008

In the 1970s, they were hung on the wall in many a classroom and often were given a name: the “board of education,” or

“the teacher’s friend.”

Some were painted or drilled with holes to maximize their impact, figuratively if not literally.

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The paddle, once as much of a staple in American classrooms as the desk or chalkboard, is becoming more and more relegated to the past. Only a handful of Ohio school districts still allow corporal punishment in schools. Some say it should be banned, others say they have no problem with the paddle.

Banning the board

Only 21 states allow corporal punishment in schools and Ohio is among them. Only 13 school districts in Ohio used corporal punishment in the 2006-07 school year, the last year for which figures are availabe, Symmes Valley and South Point schools are on that list.

In the 2006-07 school year, corporal punishment was meted out only two times in Symmes Valley and 37 times in South Point schools.

HB 406 would prohibit all corporal punishment. That legislation is right now in the House education committee and has been since December 2007.

Supporters concede it may not have much chance of getting out of committee, but they continue to try anyway.

In 1993 the Ohio Legislature banned corporal punishment but allowed school districts to continue using it provided certain specific procedures are followed, such as getting input from parents, teachers, principals, school nurses and other health professionals.

The Center for Effective Discipline was among the entities spearheading the move to get the 1993 law passed and continues to work to get a full, permanent ban on paddling.

Executive Director Nadine Block said her organization began in the mid-1980s to get a law passed to prohibit corporal punishment. It took nine years to get the limited ban on paddling and she harbors no illusions that passing a complete ban will be easy, though she says it should be.

“I know it’s not a slam dunk although it should be a slam dunk. We have a number of organizations that support it, we have the governor’s support. Almost 70 percent of Ohioans oppose corporal punishment in schools according to a United States survey done in 2005,” she said. “There is just lots of weight of the argument on our side.”

Why ban the board?

Block said there have been reported injuries in Ohio and elsewhere resulting from corporal punishment — injuries that were unnecessary.

“If you pick up a board and hit someone with a board, how can you calculate how hard is too hard (to hit them)?” Block asked. “We want people to understand better alternatives exist for dealing with children. We have decades of research to show corporal punishment doesn’t work and is harmful. We have better ways to teach kids to be constructive, caring, contributing adults.”

Those who do

Tom Ben, superintendent of Symmes Valley schools, said several years ago when the decision was made to continue using corporal punishment, parents in his district were surveyed about their thoughts. At the time, he said they seemed to indicate their support, so long as it was administered properly.

Ben said paddling is usually a last resort and is used sparingly and is most often used on younger students whose parents have given their express consent for it.

“We have found out that when you get parents involved, there is usually a change in their behavior,” Ben said.

Ben said paddling was more common when he began his career in public education in the early 1970s.

Ben said much of the trend away from it has been the result of liability issues that arise when a child is struck by an adult.

Efforts to contact representatives of South Point schools were unsuccessful.

Those who don’t

Dawson-Bryant, like other schools, ended the use of corporal punishment several years ago and now favors a variety of disciplinary methods that varies with age level and progressively worsens, if necessary.

Superintendent James Payne said Dawson-Bryant uses “reteaching behavior” strategies that include talking with the child to find out why the infraction occurred, parental involvement and, if necessary, suspension.

“Sometimes the student did something and at first doesn’t realize what they’re being disciplined for,” Payne explained. “I’ve found that what we do is fairly successful if done correctly and it has worked really well for us.”

Parental thoughts

South Point parent Bill Winters said while it has never been an issue with his own children, he is not opposed to corporal punishment if it is applied correctly.

“You don’t put bruises on the child, you don’t lift the kid off the ground or do it just to see how hard you can hit,” Winters said. “A teacher shouldn’t spank any harder than the parent.”

Winters said the threat of such discipline can be an effective tool.

“I’ve always told my kids if you do something to deserve a spanking then you’ll get it,” he said. “If you’re in the right and the teacher is in the wrong we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”