Retiring the Paddle: Local School Boards Wipe Out Corporal Punishment in Urban Texas
By Stephanie Phillips & Richard Fosse
Teachers College Record, April 5, 2012

All urban school districts in Texas now ban corporal punishment. A majority of Texas school children attend schools where corporal punishment is prohibited.

Since colonial times, Americans have approved corporal punishment in schools as a means of disciplining students. In states where it is still permitted, educators enjoy a legal privilege to administer physical force on their students so long as they do so with reasonable restraint. Today, corporal punishment usually involves paddling students on the buttocks with a wooden board.

In the famous case of Ingraham v. Wright (1977), James Ingraham and Roosevelt Andrews, two junior high students, sued the Dade County Schools in Florida, arguing that school officials had inflicted harsh corporal punishment on them in violation of their constitutional rights. Ingraham and Roosevelt maintained that corporal punishment violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban against cruel and unusual punishment, and they also argued that the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed them a due process hearing before they could be paddled.

Unfortunately for Ingraham and Roosevelt, the Supreme Court sided with the school district. In the court’s view, paddling the boys did not violate the Eighth Amendment because the amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment only protected prisoners—not students in public schools. Furthermore, the court ruled, school authorities were not constitutionally required to give students a due process hearing before whacking them with a board.

After the Ingraham decision, American attitudes about corporal punishment began to change. At the time the Supreme Court ruled, only three states prohibited corporal punishment in the schools. After Ingraham, states began banning corporal punishment through either legislation or administrative regulations. Fourteen states abandoned the practice during the 1980s, eight states stopped paddling students in the 1990s, and five more states outlawed paddling during the last 12 years.

Today, only 19 states allow corporal punishment in the public schools, where it is largely confined to the states of the Rocky Mountain West and the South. Indeed, the South is a bastion of school paddling. Every Southern state permits it except Virginia, and Mississippi leads the nation in the percentage of its students who are paddled in the schools (Center for Effective Discipline, 2010).


Just because corporal punishment is permitted, however, does not mean that educators are required to paddle their students. Local school boards can decide on their own initiative to ban the practice. This raises an interesting question: In states where corporal punishment is still allowed in schools, how many students attend schools where the practice has been abolished at the local level?

A recent study at the University of North Texas (Phillips, 2012) answered this question for the state of Texas. This study examined the student discipline policies of 1,025 Texas school districts and found that 868 districts permit corporal punishment, whereas only 157 districts ban the practice. This finding seems to suggest that corporal punishment is alive and well in Texas public schools.

But when the study examined student discipline policies by district size, the picture looks entirely different. Almost 4.8 million students are enrolled in the Texas public schools, but only about 1.9 million of them attend schools where corporal punishment is allowed. More than 2.9 million Texas students attend schools where local school boards have abolished the practice. In other words, 60% of Texas school children go to school in districts where corporal punishment has been outlawed.

Significantly, 32 of the state’s 35 largest school districts prohibit corporal punishment, and all 10 of the school districts classified as “major urban” by the Texas Education Agency have stopped paddling students, including the school systems in Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio. In short, although educators still paddle students outside the cities, corporal punishment has been virtually wiped out in urban Texas.


Why is the Texas experience important? First, the elimination of corporal punishment in Texas cities suggests that corporal punishment in public schools may be evolving from a largely Southern phenomenon into a Southern rural phenomenon (although corporal punishment is also practiced in many Texas suburban districts as well). Studies of corporal punishment in other Southern states—particularly Georgia and Florida, which have large urban school districts—would help determine if the Texas trend of abolishing corporal punishment in the cities is a trend that extends throughout the South.

Second, Southern legislators may be reluctant to abolish corporal punishment in their states’ schools out of a mistaken belief that their constituents overwhelmingly support it. In fact, in Texas at least, most students attend schools where the wooden paddle has been outlawed. Perhaps the University of North Texas study will encourage the Texas legislature and other Southern legislatures to take the step that has already been taken in more than 30 states and abolish corporal punishment as means of disciplining school children.

In any event, the Texas study should be encouraging to corporal punishment opponents all over the United States. Numerous professional organizations condemn the physical punishment of children in the schools, including the American Medical Association (Orentlicher, 1992), the American Bar Association (1985), the American Psychological Association (1975), the American Academy of Pediatrics (2000), the National Education Association (1972, 2010), and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (2004), and most scholarly research has found that corporal punishment in schools has no value in shaping the healthy development of a child. It is heartening to learn that local school boards in urban Texas apparently agree with the experts and have stopped paddling children in the schools.


American Academy of Pediatrics. (2000). Corporal punishment in schools. Retrieved from;106/2/343.pdf

American Bar Association. (1985). Corporal punishment in child care & education institutions. Retrieved from

American Psychological Association. (1975). Corporal punishment. Retrieved from

Center for Effective Discipline. (2010). Corporal punishment in U.S. public schools 2005-2006. Retrieved from

Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651 (1977).

National Association of Secondary School Principals. (2004). Corporal punishment. Retrieved from

National Education Asociation. (1972). Report of the Task Force on Corporal Punishment. Washington, DC: Author.

National Education Association. (2010, April 14). Letter the House Education and Labor Committee on Corporal Punishment in Schools. Retrieved from

Orenticher, D. (1992). Corporal punishment in the schools. Journal of the American Medical Association, 267(23), 3205-3208.

Phillips, S. (2012). The demographics of corporal punishment in Texas school districts: A law and policy analysis (Unpublished dissertation to be defended March 2012). University of North Texas, Denton, Texas.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: April 05, 2012 ID Number: 16745, Date Accessed: 4/28/2012 9:17:27 AM

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