- Ms. M_____'s letter to PTAVE
- Jordan Riak's response to Ms. M_____
- The Associate Vice Principal's response to Ms. M_____'s complaint
- Jordan Riak's request to the experts and authorities for advice
- Advice for Ms. M_____ from the experts and authorities, and the list of people whose advice was solicited
A letter from Ms. M_____, received January 6, 2000Dear PTAVE:
I recently moved my family from New York to a suburban town in Texas. The schools are said to be very good and have ample budgets and very nice facilities. The teachers and principals seem very interested in the students and helpful.
Everything seemed to be going great with the school until several weeks ago when my 17-year-old daughter--a straight-A student--announced that she had been "paddled" in the vice principal's office. I had never even heard of this practice before. Apparently, my daughter was a little more than five minutes late for first period due to car trouble. This is considered skipping a class (anything over five minutes) and she was given the choice between being suspended from the school and paddled. Because of her grades and involvement in activities she did not want to miss (tennis team), she chose the paddling--as apparently most students at the high school do.
As I understand what happens, all students who have gotten in trouble on a particular week are sent to the vice principal's office during 7th period on Friday and receive a "paddling." There are over 2000 students at the school and the week my daughter got in trouble there was a line of 22 students (12 boys and 10 girls) outside the office awaiting their "swats."
Girls are paddled by a female coach who has been designated as the "paddler" for girls. This coach is a former college athlete and nearly six foot tall and 200 pounds. My daughter is 5'1" and 100 pounds. She was made to bend over a bench and stick her bottom in the air. She was then given a lecture, followed by 5 very hard "swats" with a 30" board ("paddle"). She was in tears by the time the punishment (witnessed by the male vice principal) ended. When she got home several hours later her buttocks were still bright red and you could see the outline of the paddle on her skin. Although there was no bruising, she had difficulty sitting down over the weekend.
After hearing of this, I couldn't believe that it was legal. I found your website on the internet and am writing to find out if there is anything that can be done? Can this practice of "paddling" really be legal in Texas?
People here treat it very casually as if it is a tradition and no big deal. My daughter's friends say they have received this punishment and that they don't think it is that big of a deal! I can't believe it! Is there anything that can be done?
Jordan Riak's response to Ms. M_____, sent January 6, 2000Dear Ms. M_____ :at nospank.net/dallas.htm,
The short answers to your two questions, "Is it legal?" and "Is there anything that can be done?" are "yes" and "no."
Buttocks-beating in Texas schools, as in the schools of 22 other educationally backward states, is perfectly legal. Paddlers are vigorously protected by the legal, educational and social establishments.
Can a parent do anything short of transporting her child to a more civilized school environment? That all depends on the stamina of the parent and of the child. Few people are physically, emotionally and economically prepared to engage in a protracted struggle with their school system. And few children are able to withstand the social cost that results from being at the center of such a struggle--nor should they be expected to. Schools will show no mercy when it comes to protecting their perceived interests, and they have the child, i.e., the child's present happiness and future educational prospects, in the palm of their hand.
In the past, I have urged parents to fight the good fight against the outrageous, obscene, immoral, unprofessional practice of "paddling," and I've tried to give them the necessary advice, tools and backup, to the extent that I am able. Some have fought bravely--for a while. Before long, most of them came to the conclusion that there is more to life than engaging in endless, fruitless, circular debates with school administrators (many of whom are well-practiced at this game) and invariably their children begged them to "drop it." Some of the parents I've known managed to work out a compromise with their school. Some withdrew their children and taught them at home or found schools that were more respectful of their children's humanity. Some packed up and moved to non-paddling states.
Spend a bit of time on Project NoSpank at nospank.net. Especially see:
"Talking to Texas" at nospank.net/txtalk.htm, and "Teachers Beating Students in Dallas," at nospank.net/rosen.htm. After you've read those files, you'll know what you are up against.
Speaking as a grandparent, I would not leave my granddaughter in the care of paddlers any more than I would leave her in the care of child molesters, pedophiles or sadists. I consider any act whereby an unwilling victim is subjected to painful trauma inflicted on his or her pelvic area to be an act of sexual sadism. (I couldn't care less how perpetrators characterize the event.) Even if I knew absolutely that the child would not be targeted, I would not want her to be in an environment where such practices are considered "no big deal." To me it's a very big deal. I would not want her to (eventually) date boys who were reared in such an environment, and perhaps, one day, marry one.
Here is what I propose. I will copy your letter, withholding your identity, and forward it to academics in education departments of various colleges and universities in Texas. I believe they have a special obligation in this regard. They should be prepared to accept at least part of the responsibility for the gross unprofessionalism of many who have passed through their institutions with little apparent benefit and were certified as teachers. I will invite them to advise me how to answer you. I'll remind them that more than 3% of Texas schoolchildren are forced to submit to a pummeling on their buttocks with wooden boards by their teachers in a typical school year, and therefore your daughter's experience cannot be dismissed as a rarity. I'll also invite Texas Governor Bush, who has been outspoken on the subject of education reform, to speak to this issue. Since all the other presidential hopefuls also list education reform, and especially "school violence," as priorities, they too should welcome the opportunity to express themselves on this subject. And surely the Texas Education Department will be able to offer you some good advice. We'll ask President Clinton (again). And Hillary Rodham Clinton. Let's see what sage advice comes in. I'll send you copies of everything. And, of course, I'll post their responses on Project NoSpank so that what they say, or their silence, will become part of a permanent public record.
Dear Ms. M_____:
I have received your letter regarding the disciplinary measures arising out of your daughter's violation of the Student Code of Conduct. I must say that many of your concerns reflect a lack of information and/or understanding of the discipline policies of district, as well as some of the facts surrounding her referral to my office. There are several points which I would make in response to your letter.
First, corporal punishment is legal in Texas and has been widely used for decades. Each district is given the responsibility to formulate its own policy with regard to corporal punishment. The policy of this district is contained in the student handbook that is provided to all parents and students in the district. Virtually all parents support our efforts to maintain discipline in the schools and complaints regarding our polices, including corporal punishment, are very rare.
Second, you do not seem to be fully aware of the circumstances surrounding your daughter's referral to my office. You are correct that your daughter was in excess of five minutes late for her first period class on December 3, and that this is considered truancy under district policy. However, this is hardly the entire story. Your letter is the first we have heard of any "car trouble" as the cause of the truancy. In fact, your daughter was carpooling with several other students (tennis teammates) and the group stopped to eat breakfast before school. As a result of this detour, the vehicle she was driving ran out gas and the group had to push it some two blocks to a service station. (While the car was being filled with gas, one of the students purchased tobacco and beer which were to be consumed at a team "party" over the weekend.) This is what delayed their arrival to school. Four other students riding with your daughter have indicated that this is what happened (they were also referred to my office and received corporal punishment).
Moreover, I would point out that to avoid arriving at school even later on the morning of December 3, Your daughter parked the vehicle in a space expressly reserved for faculty and staff. A review of our computer parking records revealed that you daughter had five prior parking violations (three for parking in the teacher's lot), and that the tickets associated with these violations were unpaid.
The student handbook and district policy provide that each parking citation that is not paid or appealed within ten days results in a Level One violation of the Student Discipline Code that may result in corporal punishment. Given your daughter's five (5) independent violations (in addition to her truancy), she was actually given a fairly lenient punishment--largely because of her otherwise outstanding record. As I think you know, your daughter was given the choice between five days of internal school suspension and corporal punishment consisting of five swats. She chose the latter.
I would point out that at high schools in the district, the only violation of the Student Code of Conduct that gives rise to corporal punishment without election by the student is fighting. In all other cases, the student is given the option of corporal punishment in lieu of other penalties such as detention or internal school suspension. Many students choose corporal punishment, as did your daughter.
I would also point out the your daughter's paddling was administered in accordance with the district guidelines for grades 9 to 12. The guidelines provide that the punishment will be administered to the student's buttocks with a wooden paddle of approved dimensions, by a staff member, and outside the visual presence of other students. The guidelines also provide that female students will be paddled by a female staff member. All of these guidelines were followed in your daughter's case.
The guidelines provide that the maximum number of swats that may be administered to a student per school day is five. It is not all uncommon students in the 11th and 12th grade to receive five swats, and as indicated above, this was fairly lenient in your daughter's case, given that she engaged in five violations of the discipline code which could have given rise to five independent referrals to my office.
Your daughter's paddling was not more severe than literally thousands that have been administered in the high school during the time I have been Associate Vice Principal. As you acknowledge in your letter, it did not result in any bruising or other significant marks. Our records show that this year 186 students--105 boys and 81 girls--have been paddled and your complaint is the first we have received.
Virtually all parents are extremely supportive of our efforts to maintain discipline in the school so that it can be a place of learning. I have taught at schools in other states where corporal punishment was not an option, and as a result maintaining order was much more difficult-- if not impossible. (I would note that since your daughter's referral to my office, she has not received any parking tickets or been late to any classes, first period or otherwise.)
We take pride in the fact that our school has not degenerated into a "circus" as have others, and hope you will support us in our efforts to maintain a positive and productive environment where your daughter and others can maximize their academic potential, without unnecessary disciplinary distractions. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to contact me by letter or phone.
Dear ________:At the time of this posting, I am beginning to send the above letter, along with a copy of Ms. M_____'s January 6th letter to us, to the names listed at nospank.net/list8.htm. I'll post the replies there as they come in. Experience tells me that many recipients probably will not respond, and those who do probably will not be in a hurry, so I suggest you check back at nospank.net/list8.htm from time to time to see what arrives. Readers who only have hard copy of this material and wish to read the responses will have to access the Web, log onto nospank.net/list8.htm, scroll through the list, and follow the links.
Please find enclosed a copy of the letter of 01/06/00 this organization received from Ms. M_____, a new arrival in Texas and the parent of a child enrolled in a Texas public school. We are forwarding it to you with Ms. M_____'s approval but, at her request, have blocked her name and email address. Her reasons for wishing anonymity will become obvious when you read her letter.
We have already answered her as best we could, but recognize that our advice has no practical value beyond letting her know that someone understands and sympathizes. Ms. M_____ doesn't need sympathy. She doesn't need to hear her problem explained. She understands it thoroughly. Practical advice on how to protect her child from violent abuse at school is what she needs. Any advice you can give will be forwarded to her immediately.
Also, since we receive numerous similar parents' letters concerning schoolchildren enrolled in schools that engage in "paddling," we will post your response on our Web site as a service to those families. Many people visit our site precisely for such counsel. Ms. M_____ has agreed to this.
If you are interested in reading our letter to her and the school's vice principal's response to her complaint, those letters are online at nospank.net/msg8.htm.
For your information, 118,701 students were beaten in the schools of Texas during the 1996-97 school year according to the Office for Civil Rights l997 Elementary and Secondary School Civil Rights Compliance Report. Since that number is based on voluntary self-reporting, the true number is much higher. Teachers in Texas account for more than 1/4 of all school paddlings in the United States, and Texas is just one of 23 states that allow the practice.
Thank you for your kind attention. We look forward to your response. If you prefer to use email, please direct your response to email@example.com.
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