Spanking In Schools Has Lasted Longer Than You Might Think

“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.

  • blwpyrtv

    Some arguments to consider:

    1. School paddling is inconsistent with Title IX because it inherently impacts boys and girls unequally. Unlike boys, girls who have entered puberty would have to reveal intimate personal information in order to avoid the chance of this punishment being unfairly compounded by menstrual discomfort, or of being a risk factor where there is the possibility of pregnancy or other female-specific vulnerabilities. Either the school callously and/or recklessly does not address such concerns when paddling girls (concerns which many students may be too embarrassed or intimidated to volunteer), or it intrusively does inquire about them. There are at least two known incidents where paddling had medical consequences due to a student being female, one in Dunn, N.C. from 1981 (ref: “Don’t Inflict My Pain on Others,” by Shelly S. Gaspersohn, USA Today, October 23, 1984) and another in Scioto County, Ohio from 1997 (ref: “Some Ohio schools not sparing the rod – Corporal punishment allowed in districts,” The Plain Dealer (Cleveland), September 24, 2000).

    With children of any age, moreover, discomfort following a paddling is apt to be greater for girls, due to pressure on the inflamed and/or contused area of their bodies resulting from their normal mode of urination or, alternatively, to muscular discomfort if they awkwardly avoid this pressure. This disparity was illustrated in the case of an 8-year-old in Florida who had to use her hands to support herself astride a toilet in order to urinate without aggravating the lingering pain she was experiencing (ref: State v. Paul E. King, Florida Supreme Court Case No. SC05-258).

    2. The general immunity to litigation–if not also criminal prosecution–which many state laws and courts have given teachers and principals when it comes to paddling effectively and unconstitutionally denies students and parents the remedies that were essential to the Supreme Court’s decision in 1977 upholding school corporal punishment.

    3. The balance of available redress in the case of an injurious or otherwise unjust paddling is further weakened by the modern day prospect of unwanted, widespread prurient attention to victims via corporal punishment-themed adult websites, which may inhibit parents from seeking redress for their unjustly paddled child for fear of the publicity such complaints could generate.

    4. The legitimacy of male principals spanking female students is at odds with prevailing sexual harassment codes, which bar male employers from spanking female employees (including minors).

    5. The spanking paddle itself was originally invented not for use on schoolchildren but rather as a tool for beating slaves. The idea was to have something that would inflict terrible pain without causing the kind of permanent tissue damage that could lower a slave’s market value. While the corporal punishment of slaves has most often been portrayed as using a whip, it was also fairly common practice by the mid 1800’s, at least in certain states, to use a paddle instead. (This will not be news to anyone who has studied American slavery in depth or seen the 1975 movie “Mandingo.”) Although nobody would suggest that students today are paddled with the same degree of severity that slaves were, it is important to recognize that extreme severity is what this instrument was designed for. It is virtually unheard of, moreover, for school personnel to receive any professional training in how to paddle students, to be required beforehand to demonstrate competence at doing it safely and judiciously, to have their paddles inspected and held to any standards of size, weight, composition, or craftsmanship, and least of all to have the velocity of their swing measured. Thus, we can reasonably expect that paddlers will often times hit harder than they intend to, or in some cases, hit parts of the body they don’t intend to.

    6. The spanking of kids at school could be videotaped without anyone’s knowledge, which is a lot easier with the tiny cameras they make nowadays. If someone were to circulate that video on the Internet, it could be really humiliating for the student. Not to mention that there’s a black market for images of children being spanked. The FBI broke up a nationwide child-spanking pornography ring in 2002, incredible as that may sound, and at least two of its members worked in public schools.

    7. Despite dire warnings that school discipline would deteriorate if paddling went away, Memphis has since enacting its ban seen a reduction of discipline problems. At the national level, one finds that dropout rates, violent crime, and other social problems are most concentrated among states and localities where paddling is still allowed. School shootings have occurred most often in states that allow paddling (and paddling may have even been a catalyst for the one in Jonesboro, Arkansas). It is worth noting, moreover, that among the top 100 U.S. schools ranked by Newsweek in 2003, not a single one is a paddling school.

    8. The many groups supporting a ban on corporal punishment include The National Association of School Boards, The American Academy of Pediatrics, and The National Association of School Nurses.