Proposal would give immunity to schools that spank
By Dion Lefler, The Wichita Eagle, January 6, 2007

Survey: Should spanking be used as punishment in Kansas schools?

One Kansas senator thinks that a quarter-inch of pine might be part of the solution to school disciplinary problems.

Sen. Phil Journey, R-Wichita, plans to introduce a bill on Monday that would shield educators from legal liability for administering corporal punishment to students.

"From what I've seen and what I've been told by teachers and parents, we need to bring some order to schools, particularly middle schools," Journey said.

Kansas doesn't have a law forbidding corporal punishment, but many schools have banned it because of concerns they could be sued, Journey said.

Under his bill, "local school boards would still have the option of allowing or not allowing corporal punishment," he said.

In addition, the bill would mandate that parents would have to authorize the school to spank their child.

Journey said his own experience in school makes him think that a credible threat of corporal punishment would have a moderating effect on misbehavior, even if it is seldom used.

"I came close a couple times," he said. "Believe me, I straightened up."

Journey can expect some opposition.

Rep. Geraldine Flaharty, D-Wichita, said she thinks Journey's proposal is unnecessary because almost all Kansas school districts have moved beyond spanking as a means of punishment.

Flaharty, a retired teacher with 36 years of classroom experience, said once the spanking starts, it's hard to keep it under control.

"Discipline is very important, but there are better methods than hitting kids," she said.

Nine states -- Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Mississippi, Texas and Wyoming -- have laws similar to the one Journey is proposing, according to the Center for Effective Discipline, a national anti-spanking organization.

Twenty-eight states ban corporal punishment and seven states, Kansas included, have no specific state law addressing the topic.

Diane Gjerstad, the lobbyist for the Wichita school district, said district officials have not yet seen Journey's proposal.

But she said she thinks it might be a solution in search of a problem.

USD 259, the state's largest district, already bans corporal punishment, and Gjerstad said she doesn't sense any groundswell of interest in bringing it back.

"I think there are other options educators have now to keep kids on the straight and narrow," she said.

At present, most school discipline focuses on revoking privileges from kids who misbehave, she said.

In serious cases, punishments can escalate to suspensions or expulsion.

Gjerstad said the school district has gone to great lengths to teach students that violence against teachers is unacceptable.

It would be "a bit of a mixed message" if the teachers were allowed to hit the students, she said.

Journey, however, said he thinks there are enough safeguards in his proposal to keep school spanking from getting out of hand.

"The parent has to proactively say 'yes' (to spanking). The default position is 'no,' " Journey said. "I trust educators to use good judgment; they do it every day. This would just give them another tool in their toolbox."

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527.


Return to:
Violence toward children in the classroom

The Newsroom
Front Page