Muscogee County School Board considers banning corporal punishment

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 18, 2013 

Corporal punishment will be banned in the Muscogee County School District if the school board approves the policy change interim superintendent John Phillips officially recommended during Monday night's meeting.

The board will vote on the recommendation at next month's meeting, April 22.

MCSD's current policy allows each school's leadership to decide whether corporal punishment (paddling) may be used as an option for disciplining students. The policy's requirements include:

• Only the principal or one of his two designees may administer the paddling.

• A witness must be present.

• The child's parent, upon request, must be given a written explanation of the reasons for the punishment and the name of the principal or designee present.

• Parents or legal guardians, upon enrolling their children, may file with the principal a statement from a medical doctor licensed in Georgia stating that corporal punishment is detrimental to their child's mental or emotional stability.

According to MCSD records, about half of the district's schools (26 of 59) utilize corporal punishment: Allen, Arnold, Baker, Blanchard, Carver, Cusseta Road, Davis, Dawson East Columbus, Eddy, Edgewood, Forrest Road, Fort, Georgetown, Hannan, Johnson, Lonnie Jackson, Marshall, Martin Luther King Jr., Muscogee, Rigdon, River Road, Rothschild, Shaw, South Columbus and Wesley Heights.

Incidents of corporal punishment in MCSD have increased from 738 in the 2009-10 school year to 866 in 2010-11 and 867 in 2011-12. There have been 590 as of March 1 in 2012-13.

One is too many now for Phillips.

"You teach kids the very thing we don't want to teach, violence, if I'm bigger than you I can handle it in a barbaric way," Phillips said during last week's board work session. "When you look at urban school districts, who do you think that gets spanked more often? It's minority children, poor children, boys and special-education students."

And experts say paddling doesn't lead to more positive behavior, Phillips said.

Board member John Wells of District 2 joked during the work session, "I wish somebody had told my football coach back in the day at Jordan High School he couldn't use that big paddle."

Wells recalled he was given a choice when he was out of line: Stay after school for 1 hour or get one lick. He wanted to look tough in front of his friends, so he chose the paddling.

"Tears shot to my eyes and -- ooh wee! -- I didn't want another one of those," Wells said. "It paid off then, but I'm glad we're moving in another direction and the superintendent is cleaning that up."

Board member Naomi Buckner of District 4 said during the work session that she heard of a parent who would rather have the child paddled than receive a three-day suspension.

"Let me tell you," Phillips responded, "that permission pales when a child comes home and is bruised. All of a sudden, that permission is forgotten."

No board members spoke against the policy change at the work session, and it wasn't discussed at Monday night's meeting, except Columbus NAACP chapter president Nate Sanderson urged the board to ban paddling.

"It's antiquated and really serves no purpose," he said during the public agenda.

Corporal punishment exposes the district to costly lawsuits, Sanderson said. He also noted most states have banned paddling, so he wants MCSD to be "the catalyst" to outlaw it in Georgia.

National Public Radio reported in September that 19 states, including Alabama, still allow corporal punishment at schools.

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