The Texas Senate should move swiftly and approve a House-approved bill requiring public schools to get parental consent prior to resorting to corporal punishment of schoolchildren. The measure almost died in the House this week, but the sponsor's persistence saved it.
State Rep. Alma Allen, D-Houston, refused to give up after her House colleagues rejected the parental consent bill by a four-vote margin on Wednesday. Allen, a former teacher and principal, rallied support for the bill and on Thursday — the last day the measure could be considered this year in the House — it was approved 87-56. Final approval on Friday sent it to the Senate.
Incredibly enough, bill opponents argued that parents should not have the right to decide that their children shouldn't be hit by school personnel. It is an embarrassment that Texas still allows its public school personnel to hit children.
The bill still has to make it through the Senate before the session ends May 30.
The House debate on the bill was eye-opening. Some Republicans, contrary to what we usually hear from them, argued that public employees (in this case school employees), not parents, should be able to decide whether a child can be hit.
In the original vote against the bill, 71 of the 73 nay votes came from GOP legislators. That means 71 Republicans — members of the party that espouses the ultimate sovereignty of the family and is distrustful of governmental institutions — voted to let public school officials overrule parental wishes about hitting their children.
Who'd have thought it?
In stark terms that serve as a reminder of what we're talking about, the bill defines corporal punishment as "the deliberate infliction of physical pain by hitting, paddling, spanking, slapping, or any other physical force used as a means of discipline."
"We believe parents have the right to make the decision on whether corporal punishment will be used on their children," Allen told colleagues. "I personally would like to have it abandoned altogether."
So would we. Short of that, allowing parents to decide whether their kids can be hit at school seems reasonable. To help win approval for the bill, Allen accepted an amendment exempting schools in counties with populations under 50,000. The state's largest school districts, includingAustin, ban corporal punishment.
Allen said statistics from 2006 showed that more than 49,000 students were paddled in Texas schools. About 10,000 were students with disabilities.
Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, noted during the debate that the type of corporal punishment allowed in our public schools is banned in our prisons.
Sadly, some representatives harbor nostalgic notions about hitting children. Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, recalled that back "20 or 30 years ago, when almost all the schools allowed corporal punishment, probably one of the biggest problems was people throwing spitwads or talking in class, where today one of the biggest problems is they are willing to cuss out and assault teachers."
As Zedler sees it, we need to return to hitting more kids at school. He said he opposed the parental consent provision because "one of the concerns I have with this is the very parents who will allow the school to use corporal punishment on their children are the ones who maintain discipline at home, and the ones who will not allow it to be done will be the ones who don't maintain discipline at home because, in essence, they have the attitude their child is special and doesn't need to be disciplined."
We have a problem with folks who think discipline of children must be linked with physical pain. Allen correctly pushed her measure as a parental rights bill. We admire her persistence in getting it passed.