The state board of education voted overwhelming yesterday to recommend a ban on corporal punishment in public schools.
It now will be up to the state Legislature to decide whether to outlaw the practice, which is illegal in 28 states and the District of Columbia.
Lest there be doubt among legislators, the board members spelled out that students who misbehave may not be "spanked, paddled or hit" with the intent "to cause pain." Currently, it is left to individual school districts to decide whether to allow the practice.
"It's an archaic and ineffective tool on children. We don't allow adults to hit one another with boards, even to hit animals with boards. It will bring Pennsylvania into the 21st century," said Nadine Block, founder of the Center for Effective Discipline in Ohio. Block said Missouri, Indiana and Texas are also considering anti-paddling laws.
Board of education members voted 13-1 in favor of the changes, after grappling with the language on the state law books on and off since 1996. Part of what stalled the decision was an ongoing debate about a provision in Chapter 12 of the code, which would limit students' free speech if they were threatening someone's safety or encouraging illegal activities.
The one holdout on the paddling language, Larry Wittig, agreed with the others that corporal punishment should never be applied out of anger, revenge or frustration. He said it should be up to each district to decide whether to have it on the books as a possible deterrent.
Rep. Ronald Miller, R-York, who will be weighing in on the issue in the House in the next couple of weeks, said school punishments worked for him. "We were worried about embarrassing our parents if we got paddled in school," said Miller.
Advocates of the practice did not offer data to back up the deterrence argument.
The practice is seldom used. State schools reported 90 cases of corporal punishment last year. Only 9 percent of children live in districts that administer physical punishment, most of them in southwestern Pennsylvania, according to a study by the National Center for the Study of Corporal Punishment.
"The myth is that it's going to be a teacher who has tried everything and is exasperated, who paddles with forethought," said Samuel Knapp, who has studied the issue on behalf of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association. "That's not really what happens."
The proposed changes must clear the House and Senate education committees before the Legislature votes on Chapter 12.
(Gabrielle Banks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1370.)
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