Paddling becoming rarity in schools
by Tracie Troha, Selma Times-Journal

February 19, 2003

Anyone who was punished at school knows the experience can be hard to forget.

There was the angry look on the teacher's face and the laughter of friends as you were written up for bad behavior.

The long, slow walk to the principal's office seemed to take forever.

The sting of having to face your parents after getting in trouble at school hurt worse than the principal's paddle.

This is the reason why corporal punishment in the Selma City School System is being enforced less often. Just the threat of a spanking is enough to improve a student's behavior.

"I keep a paddle in my desk called Mr. Oak," said Don Speed, drama teacher at the School of Discovery. "All I have to do is pull Mr. Oak out of my desk, and the kids behave."

Once Speed learned the techniques of positive reinforcement, however, Mr. Oak has come out of hiding less often. After praising and encouraging students with good behavior, the rest of the class tended to follow the lead.

"I have been using positive reinforcement all year, and so far it's been pretty successful," Speed said. "I've had very little problems from my students."

Speed, like many teachers, tries to exhaust a wide variety of efforts before sending a problem child to the principal's office.

"I believe corporal punishment is an effective tool, but it's not the only tool," Speed said.

When a student misbehaves in class, the teacher first tries talking to the student directly. If this fails, a conference is called between the parents and teacher.

Finally, if the student continues to act out, the punishment is typically detention or suspension. "Corporal punishment is only used as a last resort," said Authur Capers, principal of Payne Elementary School. "We use it very rarely and only with parent consent."

Capers said the typical behavior he usually deals with is "fighting, sassiness, making hand gestures, and constant classroom disruptions."

While some parents and educators may disapprove of corporal punishment, it is protected by state law.

According to section 16-28A-1 in the Code of Alabama, teachers are given the authority to use corporal punishment if it is allowed by the local board of education.

The Code states, "so long as teachers follow approved policy in the exercise of their responsibility to maintain discipline in their classroom, such teacher shall be immune from civil or criminal liability."

Both the Selma and Dallas County school systems allow "reasonable corporal punishment of pupils" in their policy manuals.

The school boards can also provide legal representation for teachers and principals if they are ever charged with assault.

"It is allowable and we use it whenever necessary," said Charlotte Griffin, principal of Selma Middle CHAT Academy.

Despite the legal immunity, certain procedures must be followed before spanking a student.

Corporal punishment can only be administered by a principal or a designated representative in the presence of another school system employee. The punishment must be properly documented and parents should be notified.

Lynn Henderson, public relations and attendance supervisor for the city schools, said even though spanking a student is used sparingly, it seems to work when utilized.

Parents also seem to be satisfied with the city school system's policy on discipline.

"So far, I have not had any problem with my child's school," said Debra Towns, a PTO president. "No one has ever come to me with complaints."

Many educators have said the responsibility of teaching a child proper discipline should come from parents, not the school.

"If kids learn to behave at home, they will behave in public," Speed said.

Lately, it seems the city school system's corporal punishment policy has the same job as Mr. Oak. It's only supposed to scare students, not actually be used.

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