School orders mom to spank son, or else
By Diane Rado, Tribune staff reporter
Chicago Tribune, March 6, 2005

6-year-old suspended after mother refuses to spank him for numerous disciplinary infractions; instead she yanks him from school

Chandler with Mom

Tribune photo by George Thompson

A 6-year-old boy who often talked too much in class was suspended from 1st grade at Schaumburg Christian School last week after his mother refused to spank him.

Chandler Scott Fallaw, a rambunctious boy, had been piling up disciplinary notes for talking, chewing gum, bringing toys to class and not finishing classwork, said his mother, Michelle Fallaw-Gabrielson. "By no means is my child perfect," she acknowledged.

But she never anticipated the ultimatum delivered at school Wednesday.

When she arrived to pick up Chandler, she said, assistant administrator Linda Moreau told her the school needed assurances that the boy would be disciplined. "She said, `Either he gets a spanking before he leaves today, or I'm suspending him,'" Fallaw-Gabrielson recalled.

She said she refused to spank her son and left with the assistant administrator calling after her: "You know he's suspended, and that's a very serious matter on his record."

Fallaw-Gabrielson withdrew Chandler from the school the next day.

"I was so shocked that they were putting me in this situation," she said.

As a Christian, Fallaw-Gabrielson knows well the old saying "spare the rod and spoil the child." But she can't bring herself to spank Chandler and uses alternative disciplinary measures instead, such as time-outs and taking away toys.

The American Civil Liberties Union in Illinois and other groups that follow the corporal punishment issue say what happened to Chandler and his mother appears to be legal, though highly unusual. Private schools have wide discretion in discipline matters, they said, and parents agree to school policies when they enroll their children.

Handbook spells out discipline

At Schaumburg Christian School, a ministry of Bethel Baptist Church that serves about 1,300 preschool to 12th-grade students, "parent-administered corporal punishment" is part of the disciplinary system for pre-kindergarten through 6th-grade children. The parent/student handbook states that "When this becomes necessary, parents will be asked to administer this form of punishment."

Parents also sign a "statement of cooperation" that lists parent-administered corporal punishment among its disciplinary guidelines.

Still, Fallaw-Gabrielson said it's not clear in any of the literature or presentations that parents would be given an ultimatum that could lead to their child's suspension.

Assistant Administrator Moreau declined to comment for this story and referred calls to school administrator Randy Thaxton.

Thaxton said: "Our policies are reasonable. They are legal; they are in writing." He stressed that he could not discuss any student disciplinary case specifically, but said the school, as a last resort, does give parents the option of spanking their children or accepting a one-day suspension.

"When it gets to the point where the teacher can't solve the problem in the classroom, and the administration can't solve the problem, we ask parents to fix the problem," he said. "We'd say, `look, our policy is you have an option. You can spank your child, or we will suspend him for the day.'"

However, that situation is rare, Thaxton said. "We've had five students, of 565 in the first through 6th grades, in this position because of long-term, unacceptable behavior," he said.

The case adds a twist to the emotional debate on corporal punishment that has played out nationwide for decades.

Parents remember spanking

While parents growing up in the 1950s and 1960s may recall getting spanked at home and paddled at school, the practice has increasingly declined.

Just over half the states have banned corporal punishment by school officials since the 1970s, with Illinois taking that action in 1994. Organizations for and against corporal punishment say that, with limited exceptions, the state bans in Illinois and elsewhere do not apply to private schools.

However, Illinois State Board of Education general counsel Jonathan Furr said Friday that Illinois case law suggests the ban could apply to private schools, though he cannot conclude that without more research.

In any case, an increasing number of private schools are shying away from corporal punishment, said Burt Carney, director for legal/legislative issues for the Colorado-based Association of Christian Schools International. His organization recently voted to discourage its member schools from using corporal punishment "because of today's litigious society and changing views on what is appropriate."

Thaxton said school officials do not administer corporal punishment at Schaumburg Christian. Under the school policy, the parents do any spanking.

Even so, the school should be concerned about liability if a child is seriously injured by a parent on campus, said Nadine Block, a former school psychologist and executive director of the Ohio-based Center for Effective Discipline, which works to eliminate corporal punishment.

Thaxton said the school has never been sued in the 11 years he's been in charge and that enrollment has more than doubled from 600 students--proof that parents want an academically challenging and disciplined environment.

The school started in 1971 as a preschool and grew to 12 grades by 1980. Parents agree to rules that include no physical contact between male and female students before, during or after school, and no rock music for junior and senior high students. Such music promotes rebellion, alcohol and drug use and other misbehavior, according to the school.

It goes back to Bible

Corporal punishment has a basis in the Bible, said Thaxton, pointing to a phrase in Proverbs 13:24 in the leather-bound Bible on his desk: "He that spareth his rod hateth his son." Inside one desk drawer, he keeps two paddles--a ping-pong paddle, and a larger, lightweight wooden paddle that can be used for spanking.

Around the school Friday, a diverse group of students quietly and diligently worked in cheerfully decorated classrooms. Elementary class sizes average 22 or 23 students; high school classes are even smaller. A group of kindergarten students was reading, and 1st graders were reading text that included words such as carpenter, scientists and missionary.

Fallaw-Gabrielson, Chandler's mother, praised the school's academic program. At home Friday--the boy is being home-schooled until the family moves to Aurora next month--Chandler was doing exercises on punctuation and capitalization.

One of the problems, his mother said, was that the school did not deal creatively with a rowdy but polite 6-year-old who tests at the 3rd-grade level and may have been restless and bored.

Between September and March, Chandler got 20 "Tally Reports" outlining his misbehavior at school.

Many were for talking too much in class. "Chandler had a bad day today. He talked all day," one said. Another said: "Chandler has been showing off all day."

Another reported that Chandler brought gum to school, which isn't allowed. "He offered gum to me," the teacher wrote. When she declined, he began chewing it himself.

Fallaw-Gabrielson said some of his behavior could stem from changes in the boy's life--she had been a single mother raising Chandler and recently married.

Each time he gets into trouble, she tries to be consistent in her disciplinary approach. But she remains steadfast in refusing to spank him.

"I'm a huge communicator," she said, "and I feel like physical is not the answer."

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