Spanking In Schools Has Lasted Longer Than You Might Think

By Debra Kelly on Thursday, December 31, 2015
“Arnold, I’m afraid there’s just one solution. This calls for a spanking.” —Philip, “Diff’rent Strokes”

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.

Show Me The Proof

Education Week: Corporal Punishment Persists in U.S. Schools
Slate: When Is It OK To Spank?
Business Insider: These Are The 19 States That Still Let Public Schools Hit Kids

  • Hillyard

    … other schools preferred to have their staff pin students on the floor for their punishments. What the fuck??? When I was in school, corporal punishment was allowed, although I never heard of it being used above the jr high school level, no one was held down on the floor. Teacher A called teacher B as a witness (in case the kid went home and said that he was beat with a whip or something) student bent over, wooden paddle applied to the seat of learning and then back to class. The one time it happened to me it wasn’t any big deal, didn’t even hurt.
    Personally I believe that spankings are the duty/jurisdiction of the parents. When I was stationed at Ft. Sill, OK I told the principal at my oldest daughter’s school that they were NOT under any circumstances allowed to spank my daughter. As it turns out that particular school didn’t practice corporal punishment anyway.

  • OldBoris

    Some corporal punishment is absolutely justified in schools. I mean, look at the behaviour and school results of children who have grown up with the idea that they’re all unique and special, that they are equal to their teachers, and that their personal choices can always be justified or defended no matter how ill-conceived those choices are. My generation.

    We now have thousands of people leading student bodies at the world’s most prestigious universities, saying that certain views and the proponents of those views should be barred from speaking at those universities because their words are “a micro-aggression and therefore a form of violence”. In that light, a little hard discipline might have been the lesser evil.

    • Tbernicker

      I understand what you are saying, but with all the BS zero tolerance crap and kids getting expelled for non sense are teachers really the ones you want deciding when it’s justified to use physical violence against children?

      • OldBoris

        The kids get expelled/suspended because a good physical telling off is now no longer allowed.

  • Carmelo Johnson

    Words are not enough sometimes for kids, but the main thing is to know the limits..

    If good education demands it, let it be, but strictly limited.