Spanking a sore subject in Arlington; Town split over upcoming vote
By Melissa Beecher, Globe Correspondent, Boston Globe, March 26, 2006

Correction: Because of a reporting error, an article in the March 26 Globe NorthWest about a resolution against corporal punishment in Arlington incorrectly reported the views of Town Meeting member Richard Carreiro. Carreiro thinks the proposed resolution is not an appropriate article for Town Meeting and plans to vote against it. The comments attributed to Carreiro in the article were said by Town Meeting member Joseph Tully.

ARLINGTON -- Susan Lawrence doesn't spank her children, and she doesn't think you should, either.

Lawrence, an Arlington mother turned advocate, has filed a resolution to encourage parents and other caregivers not to administer corporal punishment to children in Arlington. The resolution is the final article in a crowded warrant for Town Meeting, which begins next month, and has set off a firestorm of discussion between neighbors and on local message boards in recent weeks.

A similar resolution against corporal punishment -- that includes any form of physical pain inflicted as a form of discipline -- was passed in Brookline last year.

''The message should be clear," said Lawrence. ''We want to encourage a change in attitudes on a very important issue. No child should be hit."

Massachusetts General Law already bans the use of corporal punishment on students in schools. Restraints are allowed, but can be administered only by a trained individual when children are a threat to themselves or others students.

Lawrence's article takes that ban one step further, asking Town Meeting to encourage all caregivers -- particularly parents -- to stop spanking their children. There are no penalties to enforce the resolution, but Lawrence hopes that it will raise awareness of the issue.

Lawrence said she got 36 residents to sign a petition to include the article -- 26 more than the required 10 to get an article on the warrant. Lawrence said the article is an attempt to ''dispel the myth of a 'good spanking' once and for all."

But some aren't going along so easily. On Monday, the Board of Selectmen unanimously voted to take no action on the article, so the measure will go before voters without the board's stamp of approval.

Selectwoman Annie Lacourt said although she agreed that parents should not spank their children, the article lacked merit.

''Town Meeting is the governance board and needs to do what is relevant in the governance of the town," Lacourt said. ''We have limited time and limited resources and need to focus on matters like the budget, zoning . . . this goes beyond the proper purview of local government."

Other social resolutions, however, have crept into the warrant over the years, dealing with topics such as disapproval of the war in Iraq.

Lacourt said most amount to ''feel-good resolutions" that do not serve any practical purpose.

''Most people don't want to get inside the four walls of someone else's home. There are already laws against child abuse," said Lacourt. ''I don't believe in corporal punishment, I do not spank my kids. I believe the principle of the article is correct, but it has no business at Town Meeting."

Residents like Lyman Judd agreed. ''It should be voted down. It's too bad it was included because this is not the business of Town Meeting in the first place," said Judd. ''This is too much Big Brother, or Big Sister as it would be."

Judd, a lifelong resident of Arlington, has been a Town Meeting member since 1972. He said although he doesn't condone child abuse, sometimes parents need to give children a ''pat on the fanny" to ''get their attention."

Other residents, like Town Meeting member Richard Carreiro, disagree.

Carreiro defended Lawrence's article and said that everyone deserves a voice on the Town Meeting floor.

''Anything that meets the requirements of getting on the warrant is appropriate for consideration. We're not a secret star chamber who can decide what topics are and are not appropriate," said Carreiro. Besides being in favor of the debate, Carreiro said he was also in favor of the article.

He believes corporal punishment is wrong. ''I don't choose to raise my kids that way," he said. ''I don't think other people should, either."

According to an ABC poll conducted in 2002 by ICR/International Communications Research, 65 percent of 1,015 Americans questioned approved of spanking children. Half of those polled said they occasionally use spanking as a form of discipline.

Lawrence, who authored the Town Meeting article with her husband, Stephen, said the numbers are alarming in light of studies that show the harm hitting can do.

''People have become more aware, over the last few years or decade, that corporal punishment harms children," said Lawrence. ''It has been so accepted, but it's really the root of a lot of problems."

In 2005, Lawrence made headlines when she started a campaign against an Oklahoma-based company that produced a rod designed to discipline children. The petition to oppose ''The Rod" has netted more than 1,000 signatures worldwide.

The article will be taken up in the final weeks of Town Meeting, which begins April 24. Arlington, which traditionally has one of the state's longest town meetings, will consider 67 articles this year.

What do you think?

Would you support a resolution at Town Meeting, or another government agency, opposing corporal punishment by parents? Why or why not? Send replies to globenorthwest@globe.com, or Globe NorthWest, 442 Marrett Road, Lexington MA 02421, and include your city or town and a daytime telephone number.

Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.


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