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The Charlotte Observer, February 10, 2005

Corporal punishment in schools is antiquated, ineffective

Union County school board members are wasting time thinking of ways to refine their corporal punishment policy. They should do as Superintendent Jerry Thomas recommends: Abolish it.

So should the other N.C. school districts that still use this antiquated, largely ineffective discipline tool. If local school boards won't do it, state lawmakers should ban it.

Most states already ban the practice. It's primarily in Southern states that paddling and other types of corporal punishment retain a toehold.

Union is one of the few N.C. school districts still using it, and it's used there quite a bit. In 2002-03, corporal punishment was used 463 times in the school system of about 28,000 students. In comparison, Catawba County, a district of 17,000, used it three times last school year. Gaston County, with just over 31,000 students, used it 42 times.

Why abolish it? These are the facts.

  • Corporal punishment can and often does result in injuries to students. Bruises are common. Sometimes bones are broken.

  • Corporal punishment is often arbitrarily applied. It's disproportionately used on poor children, students with disabilities and boys. Blacks are hit at more than twice the rate of whites for similar offenses.

  • Corporal punishment is a punishment, not a solution. The same children are punished over and over. Schools using it often have poorer academic achievement, more truancy, more vandalism and higher drop-out rates.

  • Corporal punishment teaches students that violence is an acceptable response to conflict. It shows tacit consent for physical abuse of children.

Last April, Union County amended its policy to urge parental consent before administering corporal punishment. That does not make it any less offensive. Nor does the board's decision to require educators to write a statement justifying the punishment. Nor does a state law requiring that students be told in advance what types of punishment could result in corporal punishment. These are weak attempts at fairness. And Union County's policy isn't even in line with N.C. law.

There are more suitable and effective ways to punish students than corporal punishment. Superintendent Thomas said as much in proposing the ban. The school board should support his judgment. It's past time for Union County and other N.C. school systems to abolish this troubling practice.

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