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Missouri School District’s Corporal Punishment Ignites Debate

by Tanesha Peeples
Missouri School District's Corporal Punishment Ignites Debate
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How are we not talking about teachers wanting to spank or paddle kids in schools? And if you thought corporal punishment was a throwback and extinct form of discipline, you’re wrong. In fact, there’s a Missouri school district trying to reinstate the practice as we speak. In the year 2022, the district plans to join other districts in the traumatic and archaic practice.

Cassville, Missouri is a little town about 15 miles from the Arkansas border that we probably wouldn’t even know about had it not been for this news. But it’s been cast into the national spotlight, bringing this deeply controversial issue to the forefront of conversations around school discipline. 

Cassville R-IV School District is home to 1,900 students. According to The Washington Post, families attending an open house were notified that the school board had adopted a policy in June allowing “use of physical force as a method of correcting student behavior.” Parents were handed forms to specify whether they authorize the school to use a paddle on their child.

Superintendent Merlyn Johnson said the decision came after an anonymous survey highlighted behavioral and discipline concerns from parents, school employees and students.  She went on to say that spanking will be used only as a last resort when punishments like suspensions or detentions aren’t working.

But, as expected, parents are divided on the corporal punishment policy.

In The Grio, parent Khristina Harkey said she’s on the fence about Cassville’s policy. She and her husband did not opt-in because her 6-year-old son, Anakin Modine, is autistic and would hit back if he were spanked. But she said corporal punishment worked for her when she was a “troublemaker” during her school years in California.

Corporal punishment is the infliction of physical pain upon a person’s body as punishment for a crime or infraction. Corporal punishments include flogging, beating, branding, mutilation, blinding, and the use of the stock and pillory. In a broad sense, the term also denotes the physical disciplining of children in the schools and at home.

Experts warn against the practice as a disciplinary tool. The World Health Organization cites the following dangers:

Corporal punishment is linked to a range of negative outcomes for children across countries and cultures, including physical and mental ill-health, impaired cognitive and socio-emotional development, poor educational outcomes, increased aggression and perpetration of violence.

Missouri policy goes against the science

Corporal punishment is a violation of children’s rights to respect for physical integrity and human dignity, health, development, education and freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Given these proven outcomes, why would corporal punishment even be a consideration for young people–especially during their developmental stages?

And while most states prohibit the use of corporal punishment in public schools, 19 still legally allow educators to physically reprimand students. Mississippi leads the pack with nearly 28,000 annual, documented cases of spanking, paddling or other physical disciplining methods, which should be considered assault

Like many other disciplinary tactics used in schools, corporal punishment disproportionately affects disabled, special needs and students of color. A grandparent whose five year old granddaughter has autism was taken to the hospital for severe bruising and swelling after severe episodes of corporal punishment.

Outlaw corporal punishment

On top of already being unfairly disciplined, researchers found that Black students are twice as likely to be physically punished than white students. And, some states with higher rates of corporal punishment are those with larger populations of Black students. 

Essentially, these schools want to beat kids to keep them in line despite evidence proving that behavioral and mental health conditions can develop or worsen as a result of corporal punishment. To me that’s a clear indication that these people don’t need to be in charge of educating kids or playing a role in their social and emotional development.

Taking the time to understand and correct undesirable or negative behavior absent of bias needs to be a consistent conversation and common practice if we truly want our kids to thrive. And if schools are supposed to be a safe space for youth, corporal punishment, or, state-sanctioned assault needs to be outlawed.

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