The Commercial Appeal, Jan. 14, 1998

Paddles will stay in Memphis city schools
Board rejects corporal punishment ban

By Lela Garlington

The city school board voted Monday night to continue to allow school principals to paddle students.

The 6-3 vote rejected board president Lora Jobe's proposal to ban corporal punishment, which principals have as one method of maintaining discipline and control.

"This is the wrong issue to even talk about," said board member Hubon Sandridge, who voted no.

"Corporal punishment is not one of our problems - our problem is test scores," he said.

Also voting to keep the policy were Bill Todd, Sara Lewis, Jim Brown, TaJuan Stout Mitchell and Archie Willis III. Jobe, Carl Johnson and Barbara Prescott voted for the ban.

Todd, Lewis and Brown have all worked in the city school system. Brown, a retired teacher, said a paddle "is a symbol of authority and maybe a symbol of respect. Let's leave this decision-making policy with the schools."

Todd, who is the district's former athletic director, vowed he would never favor a ban. He even asked a school security employee to stand up as he recalled paddling the employee when he was a student and Todd was a coach.

If the board eliminated it, Todd said, "That would be like we're taking Matt Dillon's last bullet away and saying take care of Dodge."

Todd described ban advocates as "do-gooders. It's tough out there. Don't take that last threat away."

Others said they struggled with the issue. "I've wrestled with this issue," said Mitchell. "There is a place for corporal punishment. There is no place for abuse."

The board also voted 5-4 to reject Willis's motion to create a 15-member task force to study the issue more.

"If a principal had hit a dog with a . . . paddle until it broke, there would be moral outrage," Jobe said as she opened the issue up for discussion.

That was an allusion to a story Monday in The Commercial Appeal in which Whitehaven High School principal Tracy Norville recalled breaking a paddle on a student last year. The three-eights-inch-thick cherry wood paddle was designed to break, he said.

In Memphis, principals use paddles on backsides and leather straps on open palms.

Corporal punishment has been outlawed in at least 27 states since 1974, when the American Psychological Association and several other national groups denounced paddling in schools. But it has remained an option for school principals in the remaining 23 states, including Tennessee.

Shelby County school rules say that someone - not the child's teacher - must be the designated hitter and a witness must be present.

Memphis schools generally leave paddling to the principal or assistant principal, although a teacher can be the paddler if an administrator watches.

Both policies say corporal punishment should be used only as a last resort.

Many educators around the country say paddling is being phased out because it's not an effective way to change students' behavior. The threat of litigation also has swayed other principals to spare the rod.

Board members, however, weren't swayed by seven Memphis residents who spoke on the issue of corporal punishment. Six supported abolishing corporal punishment. Tom Marchand, president of the Memphis Education Association, was the only speaker who supported allowing school communities to decide.

Parent and lawyer Carson Owen said he considered banning corporal punishment as taking another small step "on the long road up from barbarism. There are better ways to discipline our children. We teach them by the way we correct them."

If prisoners were paddled, Owen said the courts would quickly hold that such punishment was cruel and unusual.

Jonathan Cook, who is doing his University of Memphis master's thesis on corporal punishment, also spoke in favor of banning the practice. "As a future teacher, I refuse to work in a school where I will be forced to strike children," he said.

After Monday night's meeting Jobe said she was disappointed: "The eternal optimist in me was hoping for a miracle."

The resolution banning corporal punishment was Jobe's first in her newly elected role as school board president. When a single red rose was given to each of the nine board members as a gift by one elementary school for National School Board Appreciation Week, board member Todd gave his rose to Jobe.

"I want you to cherish this with your heart," Todd said as he passed the red rose down to her. "You're going to need it after tonight."

To reach reporter Lela Garlington, call 529-2349 or E-mail

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