Spare the rod? Not at many public schools
By Cynthia L. Garza
The Times-Union, January 12, 2004

Duval County schools lead the state in use of paddling as a form of punishment.

Baker County schools Superintendent Paula Barton holds a paddle she uses for corporal punishment at parents' request. She said some parents expect the tough-love discipline for their children. RICK WILSON/The Times-Union

Baker County schools Superintendent Paula Barton has a small paddle -- custom-fit to her hand -- stashed away in a corner of her office. Once in a while, she'll get a call from a parent requesting she bring it out.

She said they tell her: "Miss Barton, put it on them like you put it on me."

Baker County schools Superintendent Paula Baker holds a paddle she uses for corporal punishment at parents' request. She said some parents expect the tough-love discipline for their children.

She speaks candidly about the tough-love discipline generations of schoolchildren have come to know and often accept. It's a tough-love discipline used just more than 3,700 times in the past decade and 405 times last year in Baker County schools, according to state records.

It was the most per-capita student paddlings compared to other Northeast Florida schools. The region's largest school system, Duval County, leads the state in its overall use of corporal punishment during the past 10 years, paddling students more than 15,000 times during that time, according to records obtained from the Florida Department of Education.

But spanking is a mostly unspoken form of discipline in many Northeast Florida public schools.

Statewide, about two-thirds of all Florida school systems paddled students last year. Most of the larger school systems -- including Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties -- haven't used corporal punishment in the past five years.

The numbers have dwindled significantly in the past 20 years. In 1981-82, a little more than 184,000 Florida students were paddled, compared to 11,000 spanked last year. During 1981-82, Duval County also spanked more students than any other Florida county.

While all of Baker County's five regular public schools and alternative school use corporal punishment, Duval County has extreme ends of use. Last year alone, the 1,300 paddlings that took place in Duval County schools happened in about a fourth of all its schools, with one school -- Northwestern Middle School -- using it 474 times alone.

The decision to use corporal punishment is set school by school. Most of the schools in the system don't use it.

"I think it's a punishment that swings either very positive or very negative," Duval County School Board member Vicki Drake said. "There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of middle ground."

Drake said its use depends on the principal and feedback from the parents. School officials and board members said they don't hear much about the subject from parents.

What generally is defined as spanking is one or more swats on the behind with a wooden paddle, officials said. Policy calls for the punishment to be delivered only by a school administrator, in his or her office, and with at least one other administrator present. The amount of force used isn't designed to hurt the student but to deliver what the administrator thinks a parent would judge a reasonable amount of pressure, Baker County High School Principal David Crawford said.

Duval County Parent Teacher Association President Reta Russell-Houghton said the state and national PTA have a position against the use of corporal punishment in schools.

"What does it teach children? That I'm bigger than you, therefore I can hit you?" Russell-Houghton asked. "There are other methods you can use with children."

The National PTA strongly favors abolishing corporal punishment in schools. For communities opposed to banning it, the group recommends establishing a corporal punishment policy that includes notifying parents and having a clear policy on when it is administered and why it is used. It also encourages districts to keep records of incidences of corporal punishment by race, gender and disability.

According to Duval County school records, which are kept by race and gender, nearly 80 percent of the paddlings last year went to black students. Forty-three percent of the county school system's student population last year was black.

Northwestern Middle School Principal Saryn Hatcher inherited the school that used corporal punishment the most last year.

There have been significantly fewer paddlings this year, with four reported to the district during the first quarter of the school year. For the most part, the community at the school is accepting of paddlings as a form of punishment, but since coming into his position Hatcher has tried to implement alternative discipline, he said.

One change Hatcher has made is that parents now have to provide written consent to the school that they want for their child to be paddled, Hatcher said. Duval County schools policy is the opposite, with a parent having to exempt his child from that form of punishment.

Duval County school officials still are required to get parental permission each time a spanking is administered.

Baker County's Crawford said the vast majority of parents expect that they are going to provide healthy levels of discipline.

"They want their young folks held accountable," he said.

Corporal punishment is done in Baker County in lieu of in-school detention. Students can be spanked for such offenses as disruptive behavior in the classroom, disrespecting a school employee, insubordination or abusive behavior toward other students.

Deciding how a student is disciplined is always left up to the parent, though, Crawford said.

"It's used with parent permission, and it's appreciated." said Barton, who is elected to her position as superintendent.

Clay County Superintendent David Owens said that, while corporal punishment is extremely effective and the option is open to any school administrator without having to notify parents, the paddle is a last resort. Last year, it was used 134 times in Clay County, according to state Department of Education records.

"We're living in a sue-happy society these days," Owens said. "It's not something I recommend because of the possible lawsuits involved."

Owens recalled using the paddle during his early years as principal of Clay High. Most of the time, it worked. Sometimes, parents requested the punishment. More often, students who were paddled never went through his office again.

Owens said he urges school administrators to turn to detention or in-school suspension or peer counseling. They're less-effective by comparison, he said, but could save the school district from court.

St. Johns County has used corporal punishment sparingly during the past decade, with 17 reported paddlings in 10 years, according to state Department of Education records.

Spanking is obsolete and was used years ago because the only other discipline option schools really had was out-of-school suspensions, said Jim Welu, St. Johns County director of student services and testing.

"Teachers today have more options to encourage positive change rather than spank them," Welu said. Students in St. Johns County instead are punished with such things as in-school suspensions or by having to pick up trash or clean graffiti in the schools, he said.

Times-Union writers Nin-Hai Tseng and Shawna Sundin contributed to this report., (904) 359-4380

Florida Times-Union
P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL 32231
Florida Department of Education

Commissioner Jim Horne
Florida Department of Education, Office of the Commissioner
325 W. Gaines Street
Suite 1514
Tallahassee, Florida 32399
Phone: (850) 245-0505
Fax: (850) 245-9667

Baker County Schools Contact Information

District Office
392 South Boulevard East
Macclenny, FL 32063
(904) 259-6251
Fax (904) 259-2825

Superintendent of Schools
Paula T. Barton, Superintendent
(904) 259-0401

Gayvone Demers, Executive Secretary
(904) 259-0401

Glenn McKendree, Associate Superintendent
(904) 259-0428

Baker County School Board

District I
Earl Dwight Crews, Vice Chairperson
12458 Hamp Register Road
Glen St. Mary, FL 32040
(904) 275-2112

District II
Dean Griffis
3781 Richard Griffis Lane
Macclenny, FL 32063
(904) 259-6319

District III
Jeanine L. Harvey
419 Jerry Circle
Macclenny, FL 32063
(904) 259-2246

District IV
James Paul Raulerson
12729 North County Road 125
Glen St. Mary, FL 32040
(904) 259-2872

District V
Patricia C. Weeks, Chairperson
7769 Forest Circle
Glen St. Mary, FL 32040
(904) 259-3674

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