School spanking lawsuit settled: Student reportedly will receive $10,000
By Betsy White, Staff writer The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, March 2, 1990
The family of a southeast Georgia boy whose arm was broken during a
school paddling has settled out of court, reportedly for $10,000, averting what would have been Georgia's first jury trial over school corporal punishment. Joseph J. Crews Jr., now 16, was 8 years old when Bethune Elementary School Principal Steve McQueen paddled him for failing to do his homework.
When the boy tried to resist, Mr. McQueen gripped him tightly by the arm and attempted to strike him a second time, resulting in a spiral fracture of the boy's upper arm.
Jury selection in the case had been scheduled to begin this past Monday in Charlton County after the Georgia Court of Appeals cleared the way for a jury trial. But three days before, the boy's father, Joseph J. Crews Sr., and attorneys for Mr. McQueen reached a settlement.
The Crewses' attorney, B. Michael Magda of Brunswick, said the family's desire to settle the case stemmed from "a complicated combination of things." He refused to discuss the settlement.
Mr. McQueen said Thursday he had no reaction to the settlement, which he said he had been told amounted to $10,000. The school system's insurance company will pay the settlement.
The trial was to have been the first of its kind in Georgia because, until its July 1989 ruling in Crews v. McQueen, the appeals court consistently dismissed lawsuits against educators who paddled students. The reasoning in previous cases was that state law permits corporal punishment and gives educators discretion to carry it out.
But, in a 5-to-4 decision, the appeals court ruled that a jury had the right to sort out the conflicting accounts of Joseph and Mr. McQueen and to determine whether the principal had overstepped his bounds.
In depositions filed in the case, Mr. McQueen said he was holding Joseph's wrist because the boy was trying to cover his buttocks with his hands to avoid being paddled. The boy suddenly twisted away, the principal testified, breaking his own arm.
The child testified that, after the first lick of what was to be a two-swat paddling, he dropped to the floor in pain but the principal jerked him up off the floor by his arm, breaking it.
Sam Harben, a Gainesville lawyer whose firm represents about 50 Georgia school systems, has been cautioning his clients to carefully oversee their use of corporal punishment in light of the court's willingness to let the Crews case go to a jury.
Charlton school officials, including Mr. McQueen, still principal at Bethune, continue to use corporal punishment, Charlton Superintendent Jim Poole said, c haracterizing Joseph's injury as "a fluke accident." Last paragraph did not appear in the final editions.
Copyright 1990, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, All rights reserved.