Here are even more reasons for Union County to get rid of corporal punishment. The school system applies it inconsistently, with two schools accounting for nearly 75 percent of the paddlings last year. It's most often applied to blacks. And a recent federal report found Union used it on children with disabilities more than any other N.C. school district in 1999-2000.
Those facts reinforce what's already known about corporal punishment. It is often arbitrarily applied, and disproportionately used on minorities, students with disabilities and boys.
Union is one of the few N.C. school districts still using corporal punishment, and the system uses it quite a bit more than neighboring districts. In 2002-03, corporal punishment was used 463 times in Union's system of about 28,000 students. Catawba's schools, with 17,000, used it three times last school year. Gaston County, with just over 31,000 students, used it 42 times.
The recent news that a nationwide study found Union used the punishment on substantially more children with disabilities than any other system in the state troubles Union Superintendent Jerry Thomas, who has recommended ending corporal punishment. Research shows those children are among the groups too often unfairly singled out for such punishment. That's one reason the federal Office of Civil Rights monitors its use.
The OCR study for the 1999-2000 school year found that 85 children with disabilities received corporal punishment in Union County. McDowell County was No. 2, using corporal punishment on 75 children with disabilities. Next came Columbus and Gaston, both using it on 60 children.
The arbitrary application of corporal punishment is also troubling. Whether it is used depends largely on the school principal. Corporal punishment in Union dropped after long-serving principals who favored it retired. Blacks are disproportionately paddled. Students at East Union Middle School in Marshville received corporal punishment 235 times in 2003-04, half the 474 instances districtwide. Blacks, 30 percent of the school's population, received 58 percent of the paddlings.
But the big problem is simple: corporal punishment doesn't work. Schools using it often have poorer academic achievement, more truancy and higher drop-out rates. There are better ways to discipline kids.
Union County school board members should heed their superintendent and end this practice. Other N.C. school districts still using corporal punishment should drop it as well.
HAVE YOU BEEN
TO THE NEWSROOM?