A group that opposes school paddling has issued a report on corporal punishment in Arkansas during the 2000-2001 school year. The good news for those who don't believe in corporal punishment is that the number of paddlings reported to the state Education Department dropped 10.4 percent. The bad news is that 55,772 students, or about one in eight, were hit in the name of discipline. That rate is 12 times the national average. Twenty-seven states ban paddling.
Some other highlights of the report from Randy Cox, a social worker who heads the local affiliate of the National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools:
Seven districts ban corporal punishment - the three in Pulaski County, Fountain Lake, Mountain Home, Poyen and Paron.
By county, White County schools paddle the most, 4,000 times in the year. Searcy schools, the most paddle-prone in the state, accounted for half of the whippings. Other top paddlers were in South Conway County, Texarkana, Forrest City, Trumann, Osceola and Camden, each averaging more than five a school day.
These schools, on average, paddled every child at least twice during the year - Fairview Middle School, England High, West Elementary in Osceola and Waldo Elementary.
36 percent of students paddled were black, though they account for only 24 percent of school enrollment. Some 21 percent of those hit were special education students.
Arkansas whips more kids than 43 other states combined and, by percentage, more than any state except Mississippi. Says the Coalition about paddling: "Corporal punishment reinforces the view of the bully; it's okay to use physical aggression to control others when big enough to do it unchallenged." The Coalition contends there's no evidence that paddling improves behavior, but it can lead to injuries, alienate children and contribute to the cycle of child abuse.
Searcy High School, with 1,050 students, led the state in volume of paddlings with 1,584. Yet Ronny Brown, the fifth-year principal, is not as strong a proponent of paddling as you might expect. He predicts Searcy may eventually do away with it. "It has gotten so legalistic now, the things than can happen to a teacher or administrator, it's not worth what you have to go through."
Brown said Searcy's numbers are high because students are given the option of taking corporal punishment in place of minor disciplinary actions, particularly an early-morning detention halll.
"It's strictly voluntary," Brown said. "If you don't want to take it, you don't have to take it." Parents also may ask that their children be exempted from corporal punishment. When paddling is used, the Searcy handbook calls for two licks with a one-inch board cut in the shape of a paddle. A witness is required. Parents receive a letter whenever paddling is administered, with the name of the paddler, the witness and the reason the punishment was given.
To those who say paddling doesn't serve as a deterrent, Brown responds, "That argument can be used on a lot of things. Sometimes detention hall doesn't work on a kid. But if it works, it's the correct punishment. ůSome kids, you just can't find anything that's going to alter behavior. "