In A Nutshell
Ohio only stopped corporal punishment in schools in 2009, and it only stopped in New Mexico in 2011. A few years later, it’s still legal in 19 states thanks to a ruling in a 1977 Florida court case that stated schools have every right to hit their students under the Constitution. When students took their school to court, saying paddling and spanking violated their Eighth Amendment rights of freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, the courts said the amendment was designed to protect convicts, not students.
The Whole Bushel
In this day and age, schools are incredibly particular when it comes to the treatment of children. Punishments aren’t too harsh, abuse of any kind isn’t tolerated, and everyone gets a ribbon, even if their biggest accomplishment is showing up and successfully holding down a chair. Feelings are delicate, after all, and parents are lawsuit-happy.
So it might be surprising that, in 2015, it’s still legal for teachers and other adults to spank pupils in some states.
There are 19 states in the US where corporal punishment—defined as the deliberate infliction of pain on a child to correct behavioral problems—is still absolutely fine.
Those 19 states are mostly in the South. Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas still allow for corporal discipline in schools. Slightly more surprising are the other four states: Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Indiana.
In Ohio, it was legal until 2009. New Mexico only outlawed it in 2011, and some school districts in Florida—like the Marion County Public Schools district—had once outlawed it but have since brought it back with the stipulation that it only be used for offenses that included violence.
So the next logical question is to ask how often it happens. For those not familiar with it, the frequency might be pretty shocking.
The Civil Rights Data Collection survey done by the Department of Education found that when it came to the most heavy-handed schools, Texas topped the list. In 2006, 49,157 students were dealt old-fashioned paddlings, with 10,222 of those students having been diagnosed with some sort of disability.
Mississippi was second, with 38,131 students (5,831 with diagnosed disabilities) subjected to corporal punishment.
It’s not always done with parental consent, either. In 2009, an 11-year-old Texas boy went home covered in bruises after a paddling from a school principal left him unable to breathe after an asthma attack. While most punishments were handed out with students bent over a chair, other schools preferred to have their staff pin students on the floor for their punishments.
So how exactly is this still a thing? In 1977, Ingraham v. Wright took the matter to a Florida court. Students argued that the beatings were cruel and unusual punishment, which is specifically prohibited by the Constitution. But the court sided with the school districts, stating that the students had been afforded other rights (like due process) and that the Eighth Amendment actually didn’t even apply anyway since it was geared toward the protection of criminals, not students. The US Supreme Court upheld the decision.
And that ruling means that it continues to be all right for schools to dish out corporal punishment for whatever offenses they deem worthy. It’s usually done in lieu of out-of-school suspensions.
How much damage it does is still debated. While some studies suggest the occasional spanking might have a positive influence on behavior when it’s done in conjunction with other corrective tools and not overused, those studies were following spanking done by parents in homes.
In school is another matter, with other studies suggesting paddling in schools changes the entire dynamic of school as a learning environment and teachers as authority figures who are to be trusted. It’s also warned that it can lead to students being more likely to drop out of school, and suffer long-term effects.