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State releases report on corporal punishment in public schools

Xavier Smith • Mar 14, 2018 at 1:22 PM

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability released a new report Wednesday on corporal punishment in Tennessee public schools.

Members of the Tennessee General Assembly requested the report last year, including information relative to the use of corporal punishment for students with disabilities.

Corporal punishment refers to paddling, spanking and other forms of physical punishment imposed on a student.

The office reviewed 148 school board policies in Tennessee and determined 109 districts have policy that allows corporal punishment, noting most policies are similar and allow discretion to the principal, assistant principal or teacher who administers corporal punishment.

The office’s analysis showed:

• The use of corporal punishment varies in districts where it is allowed. In the 2013-2014 school year, 907 schools were in districts that allowed corporal punishment, and of those 907 schools, 40 percent reported using it to discipline students.

• Students with disabilities received corporal punishment at a higher statewide rate than students without disabilities for two of the three most recent reporting years.

• The number of students with disabilities receiving corporal punishment declined from 2009-2014, but not as much as the decline for students without disabilities. There were about 7 percent fewer students with disabilities who received corporal punishment in 2013-2014 than in 2009-2010, while the number of students without disabilities receiving corporal punishment declined by about 46 percent across the same time frame.

• Of the schools that used corporal punishment for students with and without disabilities, about 80 percent used corporal punishment at a higher rate for students with disabilities in all three reporting years.

The Wilson County Board of Education voted, 5-2, to remove corporal punishment from its code of conduct last year, with board members Bill Robinson and Larry Tomlinson as the “no” votes.

“When we do that, so everybody might know this, if we take out corporal punishment, then the next step could be suspension. If we suspend somebody, then a parent might have to miss two or three days of work. It’s kind of the lesser of two evils. It’s kind of tough issue to remove it, but I still think it’s the right thing,” board member Wayne McNeese said last year. 

Robinson said he believed the language could have a place in the code, especially since it’s not a mandatory punishment. 

“There is not consequence that says a child has to take a paddling in our current code of conduct. My only concern is – not that I’m in favor of corporal punishment – but there is an option if a situation, such as [McNeese] mentioned, comes up,” Robinson said. 

Robinson said an example would be if a student does something that warrants suspension but the parent is in a financial situation where missing work would harm the family. 

Wilson County Director of Schools Wright said she doesn’t remember any instances of corporal punishment being administered since she’s taken over as school director three years ago. Deputy director Mickey Hall said the last instance he remembers happened about 15 years ago at West Elementary. 

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