Teacher's paddle gathers dust -- Corporal punishment may be legal in Indiana, but most area schools phased it out years ago.
By Michael Wanbaugh, Tribune Staff Writer
South Bend Tribune, June 7, 2004

When Joan Raymond was superintendent of the Houston Independent School District in the late 1980s, she battled to outlaw corporal punishment in its schools.

When the dust cleared, schools there were allowed to either accept or reject the district's condoning the practice.

Since becoming the superintendent for South Bend schools in 2000, Raymond says she hasn't had to worry about corporal punishment, even though Indiana is one of 22 states that still allows it in its public schools.

"I fought long and hard against corporal punishment when I was in Houston," Raymond said. "I am unequivocally opposed to corporal punishment in the school. I do support corporal punishment in the home, where it belongs."

Last week, the issue of corporal punishment garnered statewide attention when the board of Indianapolis Public Schools abolished the practice from its policy.

This action came a couple of months after two teachers were suspended for paddling six 9-year-old boys. One of the boys was treated at a hospital for bruises and swelling.

Both teachers were cleared of any negligence and have returned to work.

Photo Illustration/SHELBY SAPUSEK

Since the issue of corporal punishment has not come up during her tenure here, Raymond assumed corporal punishment was prohibited by board policy.

Although there is not a specific policy item prohibiting paddling, the issue has been moot for more than a decade.

According to Richard Beeching, executive director of South Bend's National Education Association, corporal punishment has specifically been prohibited by the teachers contract since 1991.

"Discipline was a big issue back in that particular contract year," Beeching said. "Prior to that contract, teachers were allowed to administer corporal punishment."

Procedures did exist. For instance, students could not be struck in the face or head and could not be paddled in the presence of their peers.

Myrtle Wilson, South Bend schools' deputy superintendent for compliance and equity, was part of the administration's negotiating team in 1991. She was principal at Darden Elementary School at the time.

"(Corporal punishment) was already being phased out when we started those negotiations," Wilson said. "What we did was implement an in-school detention as an alternative."

Before the contract talks, Wilson said she knew of only one incident in the previous four years at her school that involved its use.

As a result of the new contract, the administration developed a student code of conduct and organized a student disciplinary committee.

"That was important," Beeching said. "Without the leverage (of corporal punishment), teachers needed that kind of commitment from the administration."



So, instead of resorting to paddling, teachers were instructed by the contract to refer problem students to the disciplinary committee for review.

Wilson said the administration was glad to see corporal punishment go. The concern was that paddlings would be administered unfairly.

Beeching said that by 1991, the practice of corporal punishment presented more potential harm than good.

"First of all, the liability of administering corporal punishment is sky high," Beeching said. "There are also philosophical concerns."

The current South Bend schools' policy manual states that any staff member has the authority to "take any action that is reasonably necessary to carry out or to prevent an interference with an educational function that the person supervises."

The school board is in the process of updating its policy manual. It is likely the board will follow the lead of other area school corporations and specifically outlaw corporal punishment.

This has been the case at both School City of Mishawaka and Penn-Harris-Madison.

Shirley Ross, communications director for School City of Mishawaka, said the corporation had an unwritten policy against spanking for about a decade.

It was made official last year when the corporation updated its policy manual.

"While recognizing that students may require disciplinary action in various forms, the school board cannot condone the use of unreasonable force and fear as an appropriate procedure in student discipline," the policy reads. "Professional staff should not find it necessary to resort to physical force or violence to compel obedience."

The policy does make exceptions for a physical response by teachers in extreme circumstances, such as self-defense or disarming a student.

At the Penn-Harris-Madison School Corp., corporal punishment was officially prohibited in 2001. But like Mishawaka schools, it was not practiced for many years, said Teresa Carroll, the corporation's director of communications.

In Marshall County, however, some schools still reserve the right to use the paddle.

"We have no policy that prevents the use of corporal punishment," said John Hill, superintendent of Plymouth schools. "It's used as a last resort and it is used sparingly."

At Argos Elementary School, corporal punishment is used, but minimally, according to elementary Principal Ron Leichty.

Under that policy, a witness must be present and a disciplinary report must be filed. Leichty, who said that sometimes parents request that their child be "paddled," also said he always contacts a parent before the punishment.

"I always check before (paddling a child), which seems acceptable to our community," Leichty said.

On the other hand, Triton schools are phasing out the practice.

"Next year it is in our elementary handbook that we will not be paddling children," said Superintendent Ted Chittum. "It was used in elementary school, but always as one last method."

Chittum cited elementary Principal Tom Bowers as one of the proponents of the change.

"(He) just felt as a staff and as an educational leader, he should provide other alternatives."

Staff writers Heather Thomas and Heather Van Hoegarden contributed to this report.

Staff writer Michael Wanbaugh:


(574) 235-6176

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