Although spanking public school students as a means of discipline has fallen from favor in most North Carolina communities, it remains an option in McDowell County.
The practice has come under renewed fire as activists and legislators seek, if not to ban corporal punishment in public schools outright, to limit it to instances where parents have provided prior written consent.
The activist group, Action for Children North Carolina, characterizes any corporal corrections in schools as "hitting students." In a recent press release, the group announces some success in the campaign to eliminate such "hitting," stating that only 18 of the state's 115 "LEAs," or school systems, allow its use.
The press release calls for the passage of bills such as the one sponsored by state Rep. Martha Alexander, D-Charlotte, to require parental consent before a spanking can be administered.
McDowell County School policy does not require advance written permission from parents or guardians for corporal punishment except in cases of special needs students. A permission slip is sent home for their guardians, with a simple, "Yes, I give permission" or "No, I do not give permission" for the child to be spanked. The parents are asked to return the document within 10 days.
In the past year's extensive policy revisions, it was recommended to eliminate corporal punishment altogether. Associate Superintendent Mike Murray, who oversaw the revision process, recommended doing away with corporal punishment. The board chose to retain it at the principal's option. Murray told the board last fall that "the majority" of principals in McDowell do not use corporal punishment.
The current policy requires parent notification, presumably verbal, although this is not made clear.
"The principal, assistant principal or teacher who administers corporal punishment shall contact the studentís parent or guardian before corporal punishment is administered," the local policy states. "Corporal punishment or an alternative punishment will only be administered after the misconduct resulting in the corporal punishment is discussed with the studentís parent or guardian and after a choice of punishment is made by the studentís parent or guardian."
The policy requires written notice after the fact: "The person who administered the corporal punishment also shall provide the student's parent or guardian a written explanation of the reason for the administration of corporal punishment and the name of the witness who was present."
The policy lists infractions for which a student might be paddled, including, "committing acts that are shocking to the conscience or inconsistent with commonly held community morals; being in areas that are generally designated as off-limits to pupils; repeating offenses or exhibiting chronic disruptive behavior; or using or possessing tobacco products."
The policy also gives a list of infractions for which a student should not face corporal punishment unless the parent has requested it in writing, including: "tardiness, excessive talking, chewing gum, failure to have hall pass, dishonesty, throwing objects, failure to bring materials to class and other unforeseen acts that disrupt normal classroom operation."
Tom Vitaglione, who co-authored the Action for Children report released this month, said the practice of corporal punishment is on the decline.
"Just six districts accounted for more than 75 percent of the 679 times that corporal punishment was administered (in North Carolina public schools) during the 2009-10 school year. This is down from the more than 2,700 occurrences reported four years ago," he stated.
His report advocates a consistent policy, statewide, of obtaining written consent at the start of the school year, to be kept on file.
"In surveying the local school districts, we learned that all districts where corporal punishment occurs have policies that require parental consent before a student is hit," said Vitaglione. "The problem is that the procedures for obtaining consent vary, and many parents report confusion in this regard, while others report receiving last-minute phone calls that seem more like ultimatums than requests for consent."