The Cincinnati Post, May 7, 1998

Spanking's sad impact--Some schools cling to tradition
By John Lang, Scripps Howard News Service

She was the homecoming queen and an honor student, but that didn't stop the 6-foot-4, 250-pound assistant principal from striking her so hard with a paddle that she suffered internal bleeding for three weeks.

He was a 9-year-old who'd suffered a concussion in a tussle with another fourth-grader - so the principal hit him three times with a paddle for fighting.

Those are the allegations at the heart of two separate civil cases in federal courts involving two different public school districts in Southern Ohio.

Across the nation, 23 states - mainly across the South and mountain West - still allow paddling of pupils for reasons that range from fighting to using rude words to disrupting a class.

It's a curious custom, too. Americans don't tolerate the beating of prisoners. That is prohibited by regulations of the federal prison system. It is not allowed in state and municipal jails, where it is either banned by local codes or considered to be covered by the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

Striking another person is not allowed in mental hospitals or in any branch of the American military either. Yet almost half a million American children a year are beaten repeatedly with wooden paddles by their educators, according to surveys by the U.S. Department of Education.

Around the world, this is permitted in only three industrialized nations: the United States, Canada and Australia.

In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Ingraham vs. Wright that schools may use corporal punishment - even over the objections of parents. Prior to that ruling, there were few, if any, state statutes regulating the use of physical punishment in schools. After the decision, legislatures began to look harder at the issue and 25 states wrote laws banning corporal punishment locally.

That put paddling in a steep decline. According to U.S. Department of Education data, in 1976 the number of students paddled was more than 1.5 million. The total has fallen in every survey - to 470,000 in the most recent, 1994.

Still, it happens - sometimes to an alarming extent.

Rhonda Rose of South Webster, Ohio, notes that her school district in Scioto County had 168 paddlings in nine months and the high school, where most of the punishments were given, has just 400 students.

''Something is wrong when we have so many paddlings in such a tiny community,'' Ms. Rose said. ''It's against the law here to strike a dog in public. Yet they can take a board - like my attorney says, that's a lethal weapon - and hit your child.''

Ms. Rose's 17-year-old daughter, Bria, had no record of disciplinary problems until Jan. 31, 1997. She had been having trouble with another girl student, who on that day struck Bria and called her a name. Bria shoved the girl.

The other girl was suspended. Bria was told she could choose a three-day suspension or a paddling. She chose the spanking, by the assistant principal.

''He hit her just once, but so hard she collapsed across the desk,'' says her mother. ''She bled vaginally for the next 23 days. The doctors feared her uterus was knocked out of place. They determined finally it was the shock from such a hard blow, and her body just didn't know how to react.''

On July 11, 1994, at an elementary school outside Portsmouth, Ohio, it was the reaction of educators that led to another federal court case. According to the complaint, here's what happened:

The principal called a meeting which required teachers to leave their classrooms unattended. Trent Connor's fourth-grade teacher turned on a video and turned off the lights.

Trent and another boy got into a fight. Trent hit his head on the floor and lay unconscious for several minutes. Other students went for help. The teacher came, gave Trent an ice pack to hold to a lump on the back of his head and marched him to the principal, who paddled him.

When Trent's mother came to school to pick him up, she was told of the fight and her son's punishment, but not about his injury. She didn't know of it until her car hit a bump and the boy screamed in pain. He had to be hospitalized for a concussion.

Officials at both schools named in the two lawsuits are muzzled by their lawyers. There's another side to every story, but they can't tell it. However, the superintendent of Bria's school district, Paul White, will talk about school paddling in general - and his effort to understand the criticism is poignant.

''I'd like to see research on long-term negative effects,'' he says. ''I've tried to find it, and I can't. I've asked for data on whether, if there are 611 school districts in Ohio and 50 still permit corporal punishment, is it confined to rural or low-wealth areas? Is it allowed in urban or wealthy areas? We're one of the Appalachian counties, and I tend to think it's part of the culture here. But should I be driving in another direction, leading my people out of darkness?''

Copyright 1998, The Cincinnati Post.

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