Washington Post, April 14, 1998

Principal Accepts Plea Deal in Paddling Case
By Maria Glod

The principal of a Sterling private school has acknowleged that prosecutors had enough evidence to show she was guilty of assault when she paddled and bruised a 5-year-old student, sources said.

While court records are sealed, two sources familiar with the prosecution's case said Faith Christian School Principal Lynn Kuitems agreed to a plea bargain on the misdemeanor charge earlier this month in Loudoun County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. As part of the agreement, Kuitems's record will be cleared in a year unless she is charged again, and the school agreed to modify its policy on corporal punishment.

The school, at 21393 Potomac View Rd., had allowed principals to use paddling in certain cases. Under the new policy, it forbids corporal punishment except by a parent or guardian.

"The disposition is one we're very satisfied with, and we believe the problem has been corrected as a result," said Loudoun County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert D. Anderson.

Anderson said prosecutors had asked a judge to seal the case to protect the privacy of the victim and her family. Yesterday, he declined to comment on the specifics of the agreement. If Kuitems's record remains clean, the charge will be dismissed in May 1999, the sources said.

Kuitems, who still works at the school, struck the child with a wooden table-tennis paddle on Jan. 22 after she was "disrespectful" and refused to join in a game with other students, according to court documents. Authorities began investigating after the girl's father noticed a bruise on her buttocks. The girl told him she had been struck seven times with a wooden paddle, the records said.

While corporal punishment is outlawed in Virginia public schools, it is permitted in private schools and family settings. In this case, sheriff's deputies and county social workers found that the paddling crossed the line into abuse.

Officials at the school, which has about 500 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, initially stood by their discipline policy but said yesterday that they are pleased with the change.

"I would still say we believe in corporal discipline, but it's best administered by the parent so they can make that choice and invest the time," said headmaster Robbin Marvin. "Wisdom dictates this is the best way to proceed."

Under the school's prior policy, parents were asked to choose among forbidding corporal punishment outright, coming in when necessary to discipline their children, and allowing the principal to spank their children.

Marvin, who said paddling at the school was rare, believes that corporal punishment has its roots in the Bible and said he has spanked his four children. "The Bible tells me that if I love my children, I'm going to discipline them," he said. "We've done that, and I think they appreciate it."

Patty Demmon, who has three children in the school and also works in the cafeteria there, said she supported the old policy but believes the change is good.

The American Academy of Pediatrics this month said that spanking can lead to increased aggression among children and recommended using other methods of discipline.

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