The Washington Post Company, January 31, 1998

Paddling of Girl, 5, Prompts Investigation
Head of Loudon Religious School Reportedly Called Her Disrespectful

By Maria Glod, Washington Post Staff Writer

Loudoun County authorities are investigating whether the principal of a Sterling religious school took a corporal punishment policy too far when she allegedly struck a 5-year-old girl with a table-tennis paddle, causing a large bruise on the child's buttocks.

Sheriff's deputies seized a wooden paddle Wednesday from the office of Faith Christian School principal Lynn Kuitems. According to court documents, Kuitems struck the kindergartner Jan. 22 because the girl was "disrespectful" and refused to join a game. No charges have been filed.

The girl's parents were aware that the school has a corporal punishment policy, court papers said. Robert Showers, an attorney for the school, said yesterday that the parents previously had given written permission for school officials to physically discipline the girl.

But sheriff's deputies and a representative from the county's Child Protective Services who examined the girl determined that "the injury far exceeded corporal punishment . . . this was a case of assault and battery," investigator Ronald Horak wrote in an affidavit filed in Circuit Court.

The mother told investigators that on Jan. 22, Kuitems left a message on the family's answering machine stating that the girl was "disrespectful and was going to be spanked."

Officials at the school -- which has 500 students in kindergarten through eighth grade -- "believe corporal punishment is biblical and that, in the appropriate circumstances, has an educational benefit," Showers said.

Showers said the school, at 21393 Potomac View Rd., asks parents to choose between forbidding corporal punishment; coming in when necessary to discipline their children; or allowing the principal to spank their children. When officials feel corporal punishment is appropriate, the principal spanks the child on the buttocks while a witness is present.

Authorities began investigating Tuesday, after the girl's father noticed the bruise while giving her a bath. The girl said that Kuitems had spanked her seven times with a wooden paddle, the affidavit said. The family could not be located for comment yesterday.

Corporal punishment is not outlawed in Virginia, but officials said it can be difficult to gauge when legal punishment crosses into abuse.

"There is no law which prohibits parents or caretakers from spanking children, but there are many laws on the books that protect children from physical abuse," said Martin Brown, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Social Services. Brown said investigators examine factors including the extent of the injury and the manner in which it was inflicted.

Loudoun County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert D. Anderson said that judging whether discipline goes too far is based upon "the size of the child and result of the injuries."

Anderson said corporal punishment is generally prohibited in Virginia public schools, with exceptions that allow an employee to use some force to stop a disturbance or prevent a student from harm.

Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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