Union paddling policy at odds with law Union paddling policy at odds with law
By Emily S. Acherbaum, Staff Writer
Source: The Observer, February 8, 2005

N.C. requires behavior in violation be made clear beforehand

Union County's hotly debated corporal punishment policy isn't in line with an N.C. law that requires students be told what types of behavior could result in paddling.

State corporal punishment law requires students be told in advance what types of behavior could result in corporal punishment, and requires local school boards make a list of those behaviors available to students and parents at the beginning of each school year.

Union's policy, suspended last week after months of review, doesn't do that.

Assistant superintendent Ed Davis, who supervises policy issues, says it's up to individual schools to decide when to use corporal punishment, which is paddling students. Davis said he expects each school outlines behaviors that could lead to corporal punishment in student handbooks, but that he isn't sure if all the county's schools do that.

That's just one of the reasons the corporal punishment policy isn't sitting too well with some parents.

"When can it (corporal punishment) happen? Getting out of line at the cafeteria? Showing disrespect?" said Peggy Dean, a Weddington mother of three. "It's not defined," said Dean, who has spearheaded the effort to abolish the county's policy, which she calls illegal.

"I think they enacted the ban to cover their butts," she said.

Union has been using corporal punishment at a rate that far exceeds many other school districts in the region.

In 2002-03, corporal punishment was used 463 times in Union schools, a system of about 28,000 children. Almost all those children were elementary students.

That's high compared to some other neighboring counties. In Catawba County, a district of 17,000 students, corporal punishment was used three times in the 2003-04 school year, all three times in elementary schools. In 2003-04, corporal punishment was used 42 times in Gaston County schools, which has 31,285 students.

Phil Martin, chair of the Union County Board of Education, said the district's policy, which he supports, does need improvement. School officials have been working for months to iron out what they admit are inadequacies in the policy.

Last April, the board approved some changes:

The board added a line stating that parental consent to corporal punishment will be "highly recommended."

The board also voted that officials who administer corporal punishment must write a statement justifying the punishment. Before that change, records only stated details including the student's name, the witness' name, the offense and how the punishment was administered. State law requires that parents can receive a written justification if parents request it.

The board's policy committee is still reviewing corporal punishment, even though the schools suspended the practice last week. Superintendent Jerry Thomas asked the school board to abolish corporal punishment.

Although a school board vote is likely a few months away, some board members have said they'll vote against the superintendent's recommendation. Board members in favor of corporal punishment say it's a legitimate form of discipline that parents ask for.

Some Union parents were shocked to learn the policy did not require parental notification before a child was paddled. But that is in line with state law, which only requires notification after corporal punishment has been administered.

About half of U.S. states have banned corporal punishment.

What N.C. Corporal Punishment Law Says:

  • Corporal punishment cannot be administered in a classroom with other children present.

  • Students shall be informed beforehand what general types of misconduct could result in corporal punishment.

  • Only a teacher, substitute teacher, principal, or assistant principal may administer corporal punishment. That person must be witnessed by another principal, assistant principal, teacher, substitute teacher, teacher assistant or student teacher. The witness must be told beforehand, and in the student's presence, the reason for the punishment.

  • A school official will provide the child's parent or guardian with notification that corporal punishment has been used. A written explanation of the reasons for the punishment will be given at the parent's request.

  • Litigation may prove tricky. According to the law, "no officer or employee of the State Board of Education or of a local board of education shall be civilly liable for using reasonable force, including corporal punishment. Furthermore, the burden of proof is on the claimant to show that the amount of force used was not reasonable."

Staff writers Greg Lacour, Gail Smith-arrants and kathryn wellin contributed to this report.

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