The Associated Press, July 17, 1998

Birmingham in apparent minority in ruling out the paddle

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- City schools in Birmingham banned paddling of students, but it appears most school systems around the state do not want to abandon corporal punishment, which is permitted statewide and backed by Gov. Fob James.

Birmingham school officials threw out the paddle Tuesday at the request of new Superintendent Johnny Brown, who said he doesn't believe paddling is an effective means of discipline.

The state Department of Education had no figures on the total number of schools that use paddles, but a survey by the Alabama Association of School Boards in 1995, the most recent figures available, found that of 121 school systems responding, 112 allowed corporal punishment and nine did not.

Shelby County is among those using paddles.

"The Bible says that if you spare the rod, you spoil the child," Shelby County Superintendent Bill Sparks told the Birmingham Post-Herald in a story Thursday. "We as parents have not done a good job of teaching discipline to the young people. Paddling a student lets them know there are rules to follow."

Sparks said he doubts if 25 children in Shelby have been paddled in the past year. Corporal punishment, or paddling, in Shelby County requires written permission of a parent.

Tarrant Superintendent Fred Perkins plans no change in his system's punishment policy.

"Different things work for different children," Perkins said. He said the possibility of being paddled has more effect than actually doing it.

Some Birmingham-area systems --Homewood, Hoover, and Fairfield -- all have policies that prohibit the use of corporal punishment.

The Fairfield Board of Education reviewed its policies in 1995 and said employees can physically restrain a child from hurting himself and others, but they cannot administer any form of corporal punishment.

Instead, the district uses detention, probation and work assignments as discipline.

But in Tarrant, Perkins said that if a child's behavior isn't improving, a lot of principals favor the paddling over a three- or four-day suspension because it doesn't affect a student's school work.

Jefferson County Schools also allow paddling, but Superintendent Bruce Wright says it's seldom used.

He said administrators have to be careful because they could physically damage a child. Wright said there is a fine line between going too easy on a child and making the punishment a joke, and inflicting enough pain to teach the child a lesson.

Mountain Brook Superintendent Charles Mason said corporal punishment should only be administered as a last resort.

"It has not been used in the last five years (in Mountain Brook schools)," he said. "I guess we haven't been close enough to the last resort."

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