The State, February 22, 1998

Lawmakers provide paddling shield for school administrators

By Bill Robinson, Staff Writer

Paddling is a permissible form of punishment in South Carolina’s public schools. But those who can administer that kind of discipline are reluctant to do so, fearing it could land them in legal trouble.

As the House of Representatives debated an education reform bill last month, lawmakers added an amendment to shield school employees from civil and criminal lawsuits if they use corporal punishment to enforce discipline.

“Discipline is the one thing that needs to be controlled,” said Rep. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington. “I hear that from constituents more than any other thing when they want to talk about schools.”

“Every paddling I got I deserved,” said Rep. Ron Fleming, R-Union. “It made an impression on me.”

Fleming cosponsored the amendment because he’s bothered by methods schools employ to make campuses safe, things like metal detectors and police officers patrolling the hallways.

“Why go out and build alternative schools when you’ve got the answer staring you in the face?” Fleming said.

Rep. Andre Bauer, R-Lexington, occasionally works as a substitute teacher at schools in his Irmo-area House district.

“It’s unbelievable what one disruptive student can do,” Bauer said. “I’m amazed at some of the behavior I’ve seen — the lack of respect for adults and fellow students.”

Bauer said spanking can be a low-cost approach to emphasizing discipline.

The corporal punishment amendment doesn’t give the paddler carte blanche. Fleming, an attorney, included a phrase that says spanking should be “absent gross negligence or recklessness.” That clause gives parents recourse if a spanking is overzealous.

“The message we’re trying to send is: ‘We’re serious about restoring discipline to our schools,’ ” Knotts said.

However, the education reform bill — with the corporal punishment amendment — is a long way from becoming law. It still must be combined with the Senate’s version, which was still being debated last week.

Bill Robinson writes about K-12 education. Contact him at (803) 771-8482.

Return to Newsroom Index or to Table of Contents.