Foes push for corporal-punishment ban in DISD
By Melinda Donnelly, Dallas Times Herald, Sunday, July 2, 1989
Foes push for corporal-punishment ban in DISD By Melinda Donnelly Dallas Times Herald, Sunday, July 2, 1989

For Inocencio Navaraez, the principal's refusal to believe his side of the story stung more than the slap of a wooden paddle on his backside.

The 12 year old Arcadia Park fifth-grader says he had disrupted the lunchroom with a loud cough as a teacher was disciplining another student. The teacher took it as an affront to her authority; he says he had to clear his throat.

"It wasn't my fault that he hit me," said Navaraez, who said he and two other boys were spanked as they leaned over a desk in principal John Chapel's office last spring."I didn't do anything wrong, but he didn't believe me.It makes me feel sad."

The humiliation and frustration felt by Navaraez and other pupils adds fuel to the fires of corporal punishment opponents who are battling the school district over a policy they say threatens the physical and emotional well-being of students.The school board will review the policy in August, when one board member said he will call for a one-year moratorium on spankings to measure their effect on school discipline.

By some estimates, hundreds of the more than 131,000 students in the Dallas Independent School District are spanked each day by teachers and principals. Parents say the educators often ignore the district's strict rules on corporal punishment by paddling students in groups, without witnesses, failing to fully report each incident and using it on first-time offenders, rather than as a last resort.

Last school year, a Casa View Elementary principal apologized after he inadvertently bruised three 8-year-olds during a group spanking.Through principal Wayne Phillips says he paddles students when other disciplinary methods don't work, his school - along with 113 of the more than 180 DISD schools - reported no spanking in a survey for the U.S. Education Department in 1987-88.

Neither the principal nor district officials could explain the discrepancy.

"There must be some difficulty with the reporting," Phillips said.

"Schools aren't keeping proper documents, and that encourages abuse because then they don't have anybody to answer to," said Gay Nuspel, A Plano resident and member of People Opposed to Paddling Students.

The group has a litany of complaints about DISD policy as well:Principals and assistant principals can spank children even if parents request that they don't; children are not given a chance to tell their side of the story; there are no guidelines on what instruments are to be used to administer the punishment, nor on how many licks may be given.

Since the late 1960's, groups in Dallas have urged the school board to ban corporal punishment.

The practice, however, is firmly entrenched in Texas schools, which lead the nation in the number of students paddled annually.Only two school districts in the state - Alamo Heights outside of San Antonio and Clear Creek near Houston - have banned corporal punishment.

In 1987-88, Dallas schools reported 6,274 paddlings, according to the same report in which 113 schools indicated no use of corporal punishment.

Parents and some school board members are unconvinced that so many schools chose not to administers spankings.

H.B. Bell, superintendent of elementary education, declined to comment on the report, but said he has had to warn some school principals who have violated the DISD policy.

" I have reviewed their reports and have seen some where I thought they were probably not using [paddling] as a last resort," said Bell.

Robert Hageback, a Dallas clinical psychologist who has fought the use of corporal punishment in the DISD since the early 1970's, said the practice is partly to blame for the city's high dropout rate.

"Children who have learning problems have already started to become angry or alienated, and corporal punishment only exacerbates the problems that are already there," Hageback said."It's likely to just further alienate students from the learning process and from adults with whom they should otherwise have a good relationship."

The number of spankings differs widely from school to school, depending largely on the principal's philosophy.Some schools limit spankings to serious offenses, such as fighting, while others paddle students for tardiness, disrupting classes or not doing homework.

Roosevelt Vaughn Jr., principal of Stone Middle School, said he uses corporal punishment for extreme cases, such as fighting.He said he and other school officials have administered "about a third" of the 429 spankings given by his predecessor, who retired last year.

"You've got to have some kind of measure against students who need correction," Vaughn said."Sometimes it's just a matter of getting a student's attention."

Many Dallas principals said they do not spank unless parents give the OK.

"Some children don't react to anything but a spanking, because that's all they have at home," said Sally Dysart, who retired this year as principal of Buckner Elementary School after 38 years as an educator."But I'm not at all sure corpora punishment changes a child's behavior."

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