Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Area News

July 31, 2012

Corporal punishment change gets nod

CROSSVILLE — A proposed policy change on how parents can opt out of corporal punishment in the school system passed on first reading by the Cumberland County Board of Education Thursday.

The policy change will require parents who do not want corporal punishment used on their child to get a form from the school and state they do not grant permission for their child to be paddled. Currently, forms are sent home with students at the first of the year and those forms must be returned stating the schools have permission, eliminating thousands of forms and allowing those 300 to 400 parents who object to corporal punishment in schools to still make those wishes known.

Charles Tollett, 1st District representative, asked if the committee had considered eliminating corporal punishment in Cumberland County Schools.

"In 1989, the state legislature appointed a committee to study corporal punishment as a method in schools, and the number one finding of that committee was that corporal punishment is not an effective tool for dealing with behavioral problems in the public schools. I wonder if this committee has any sense at all of eliminating corporal punishment," Tollett said.

That study recommended alternative forms of discipline, including alternative schools, in-school suspension, behavior modification techniques and behavior contracts. The study also found the majority of teachers do not use corporal punishment but do believe it should be removed from the teachers' discipline options and that parental involvement helps to reduce student behavioral problems.

Tollett said the board had talked extensively about bullying and violence in schools and that the use of corporal punishment was contradictory to those discussions.

"It seems to me our ability to reduce those things would be greatly improved if we practiced a little bit of that nonviolence ourselves," Tollett said. "I just wondered if you'd considered taking the step that we will not use corporal punishment in Cumberland County schools."

Victor Randolph, 6th District representative, said there were some circumstances where corporal punishment was necessary.

"Some kids do not respond at all to detention," he said, adding his son was one of those students. "All of them at Homestead know that's one way to line him out. He dreads the paddle, but they've got my full support if they feel he needs it. He'll tell you, 'I like detention. It's quiet in there.' Detention serves no purpose for him."

Tollett said, "I suspect the parent has a better understanding about that than anyone else. It's a parent's right to raise their kids the way they want. It's one of our fundamental rights, and I've got no interest in abridging that at all."

Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative, noted parents can still opt out of corporal punishment.

"Everyone refers to it as the 'no paddle list,'" Janeway said. "Well, technically, it's the paddle list because the parents had to submit a form that said you have permission to paddle my list. Now it's a true no paddle list because now you have to say they don't [have permission].

"If you look the sheer number of paperwork, and this was part of the discussion, you've got [for example] 4,000 students and you get permission for 3,900," Janeway said. "But the parents have the option of opting out. And, with the great educators we have here, it doesn't take but a week or two to figure out what makes this one behave and this one behave and this one behave."

Tollett noted recent surveys by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights ranked Tennessee as fourth in the nation in percentage of students receiving corporal punishment in the U.S., surpassed by Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama.

Tennesseans for Nonviolent School Discipline reports 37,419 students were paddled in Tennessee schools in the 2002-2003 school year, representing 4.3 percent of total school enrollment.

According to policy 6.314, corporal punishment may be used "in a reasonable manner against any student for good cause in order to maintain discipline and order within the public schools."

Corporal punishment is to be used only after less stringent measures have failed or if the conduct of the student is such that corporal punishment is the only reasonable form of punishment in the circumstances; the punishment is to be reasonable and administered in the presence of another professional employee; and the instrument to be used is to be approved by the principal.

Under the policy change, if corporal punishment is refused, the student would face three days of in-school suspension or three days of Saturday school, with the principal deciding which punishment will be used.

Rolf Weeks of Crossville noted the Tennessee Parent Teacher Association was opposed to corporal punishment in schools.

"In a nutshell, both the national and state PTAs are against corporal punishment and believe it has negative effects," Weeks said.

The policy was approved as part of the consent agenda, which does not permit discussion of individual items.

Policy changes require two successful readings by the board. When students return to school next week, a form will be included with registration materials that parents can return if they do not wish corporal punishment to be used on their child.

Other policies approved on first reading include allowing electronic participation in board meetings by members who have to be absent due to work or family obligations or military service; revision of the suspension/expulsion/remand policy; and revision to the teacher evaluation policy. Also approved were two new policies — one for the safe relocation of students and one governing the establishment of charter schools in the district.

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