When fraternities do it, it's called hazing and the guilty parties might face expulsion or even criminal prosecution. But when teachers or principals do it, it's called corporal punishment. And surprise, surprise, it's alive and well in Alabama.
This isn't the first time The Times has been critical of corporal punishment. The practice of spanking or paddling students can lead to injuries and be abused easily by unthinking educators in a heated moment.
Along with some parents, guardians and educators, we believe the days when corporal punishment belonged in schools have long since passed.
So does Vonna Knight, the aunt of Monrovia Middle School student Renesha Carson. The 14-year-old was paddled last month after she and a young male student were found hugging in a stairwell.
In Madison County schools, public displays of affection are considered Class 1 offenses. School board policy suggests 10 consequences for such violations, none of which are mandatory and any of which can be applied at the discretion of school administrators. The two choices offered to Renesha and the young man were two-days of in-school suspension or two hits with the paddle. According to Principal Derrell Brown, both students chose the paddle.
The problem in Renesha's case is that her aunt, who is her guardian, said she didn't want her to be paddled. Knight also said that she had sent a letter to the school indicating her wishes before the paddling. School officials said that they don't have a letter from Knight in their files.
Principal Brown said that before any child is paddled, the child is asked if there is any reason that the paddling shouldn't be administered. He said that Renesha didn't indicate that her aunt would have objected.
If Renesha had told school officials of her aunt's wishes, Brown said, she wouldn't have been paddled - just as she wouldn't have been if there had been a letter on file in his office.
''We always honor parental wishes,'' Brown told The Times.
Surprisingly, parents may be the ones keeping paddling in play. Madison County principals say that many parents request that their children be paddled by school officials.
Brown says that school administration is much like parenting. No one solution fits every problem. Administrators, like parents, need to have several disciplinary options.
The Times agrees. But it's disturbing to know that paddling children is among the options.
Alabama ranks third among the 22 states that allow school administrators to paddle students. In the 1999-2000 school year, over 39,000 paddlings were administered.
Clearly, children can be disciplined without being hit.
In Madison city schools, paddling is not an option. In Huntsville, paddling is not disallowed but is discouraged by the current administration.
Neither school system is on the verge of anarchy, nor are their discipline problems unusually severe.
Paddling may well be effective with some students, but it can also cause severe injuries if administered without extreme care. It can also be argued that there is a certain hypocrisy in allowing corporal punishment while also telling students that they must solve their problems without hitting.
Renesha is fortunate. The paddling she received didn't cause her any lasting injuries. The next child caught kissing in the stairway might not be so lucky.
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