Schools average in paddling
By Jon Alverson
Desoto Time Tribune, September 10, 2010

About 10.5 percent of DeSoto County (MS) public school students received corporal punishment during the last school year. The schools reported 3,140 students had corporal punishment, or paddlings, in 4,993 incidences.

DeSoto County’s percentage is similar to Mississippi’s overall average of about 10 percent which is the highest in the nation.

DeSoto County’s rate is 1.5 to 4 times higher than two other state school districts in similar growth and demographic areas, Rankin and Madison counties. The highest academic performing districts last year of Booneville and Pass Christian do not administer corporal punishment. About 50 of the 152 districts in the state don’t allow paddling.

Mike Smith, director of pupil services for DeSoto County Schools, said the schools’ goal is to work through teacher interventions to avoid corporal punishment.

“Our teachers are being trained there are many interventions we can do with students,” Smith said. Interventions include a teacher support team that works to correct student behavior as well as working with grades.

At the beginning of the school year, DeSoto County schools allow parents to choose an alternative form of punishment in place of corporal punishment.

Beginning in seventh grade, students also may choose to decline corporal punishment.

The alternative punishment is in-school suspension, in which students spend one or more school days in a special classroom apart from their regular studies.

Dr. Sarah Blackwell, elementary education coordinator and professor in the school of education at the University of Mississippi, said the university does not allow student interns to participate in corporal punishment when placed in a school.

She said that after many years in education, she’s found a positive interaction with students is better than corporal punishment in correcting actions.

In Rankin County Schools corporal punishment is a last resort according to Matthew Evans, assistant superintendent.

“It just doesn’t fit with our community anymore,” Evans said. “We should reflect our community.”

Evans said the shift away from corporal punishment as a disciplinary mainstay happened about 10-15 years ago.

“If the parents aren’t behind it, it won’t work,” Evans said.

The suburban Rankin County school district last year had about 2.8 percent of its 18,000 students involved in corporal punishment.

The suburban Madison County school district last year had 6.5 percent of its 11,000 students involved in corporal.

The Tupelo Schools district is one of those opting out of corporal punishment as a means of discipline.

Kay Bishop, Public Relations Officer with Tupelo Schools, said corporal punishment has not been a part of the schools code of discipline for many years.

“It’s just not an effective means of discipline,” Bishop said. “We changed it according to what was best for our students.”

The DeSoto County Schools code of discipline — available online at — outlines when corporal punishment is to be used in a disciplinary situation.

According to the DeSoto County schools’ code of discipline, corporal punishment can consist of no more than three licks per incident on the buttocks with an appropriate instrument approved by the principal.

A federal lawsuit filed on behalf of a Tate County high school student in federal court in Greeneville recently asks for a ban on paddling in the state, claiming the punishment is unfairly applied based on gender and race.

The plaintiff student, a 16-year old male, was paddled last fall for looking at photographs on a camera during class. The female student who brought the camera to class was not paddled.

The suit requests a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order halting the practice as well as a declaration that corporal punishment of students is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit claims that 75 percent of students paddled in Mississippi are male, creating "a serious, gender driven crisis," and that black students are paddled at disproportionate rates.

In DeSoto County last year, black students at 53 percent of the total number of corporal punishment incidents, were the largest population involved, followed by white students at 39 percent. White students made up 65 percent of the district’s students with black students at 28 percent, according to a Children First Annual report.

White males received 33 percent of the in-school suspensions, and black males followed at 31 percent. Males make up 79 percent of the total corporal punishment incidents.

Records obtained by the DeSoto Times Tribune from the Mississippi Department of Education show some trends in who receives the punishment. The numbers supplied do not include any single school population of less than 10 incidents in order to avoid identifying individual students, according to the state department of education.

See a full report on the number of corporal punishment incidents in individual schools in the district online at

Katherine Nelson, director of community relations for DeSoto County Schools, said corporal punishment is part of how the system keeps its students on track and learning.

“Corporal punishment works for us. It is a deterrent to discourage or prevent negative behavior,” Nelson said. “It keeps our schools in order and lets our teachers have an orderly classroom.

Nelson said orderly classrooms are a benefit to students’ ability to learn. “Our goal is for students to learn, but when they disrupt the classroom, there has to be a consequence.”

See a school-by-school breakdown of punishment numbers at

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