18-year-old student sues over paddling
Associated Press, January 30, 2005

When Jessica Serafin enrolled in a charter high school, her mother signed a form allowing administrators to paddle her as punishment.

But by the time a summer school principal paddled her last June, Serafin was already 18 and legally an adult.

Now she's suing the School of Excellence in Education, San Antonio's largest charter school, alleging it was wrong for the principal to paddle an adult student without her consent. She says the beating she received for leaving campus to get breakfast was so severe she had to go to the emergency room.

The lawsuit was filed Jan. 10 in state district court. Last week, a notice was filed to move it to federal court.

Although the lawsuit also alleges civil rights violations and negligence, a key element in the case is her age and the fact she didn't consent, her attorney said.

"This case is not about a crusade against corporal punishment," said Dan Hargove, her attorney. "It's not a crusade against charter schools. ... This case is about three adults holding down an adult female and beating her with a wooden paddle so bad that she ended up in the hospital."

The school's attorney, Jeff Gately, said the lawsuit "contains some blatant falsehoods."

Gately said he and several school officials investigated the girl's account and found it to be without merit.

The principal's attorney declined to comment, saying he didn't want to try the case in the media.

The School of Excellence in Education advocates an "old-school" approach to discipline. Uniforms must be tucked in, girls can wear only one pair of earrings, and boys must open doors and pull out chairs for their female peers. It is the only public school in Bexar County that paddles students.

Serafin says the summer school principal, who is a named defendant in the lawsuit, hit her three or four times. She said she tried to block one of the blows and the paddle "smashed her hand."

"I started screaming because I thought he had broke my hand," she said.

Serafin said she went to the hospital because she could hardly walk after school and her hand was severely swollen. Her hand was put in a cast at the emergency room.

State law allows parents to spank their minor children if the parent "reasonably believes the force is necessary to discipline the child or to safeguard or promote his welfare." But the law does not allow parents to use force on children who are 18 or older, Hargove said.

Hargove contends the school was acting on behalf of Serafin's parents, and therefore, shouldn't have been allowed to paddle an adult student.

But St. Mary's University law professor Gerald Reamey said another part of the law allows educators to use corporal punishment without age restrictions to "further the educational purpose or maintain discipline."

Attorney Philip Marzec, who represents local school districts, said it is difficult for a plaintiff to prevail against a school district in a paddling lawsuit because they generally are immune from allegations of negligence relating to corporal punishment.

But districts can be sued for civil rights violations, Marzec said. The plaintiff would have to show that a school policy or sanctioned practice led to the violation.

Information from: San Antonio Express-News, http://www.mysanantonio.com

Return to this Newsroom date
Select other Newsroom date range
Return to Project NoSpank Table of Contents at www.nospank.net