Savannah Morning News, December 15, 1998

Principal charged with paddling freshman too hard --
Montgomery County High School Principal Michael Parker denies being arrested on charges of child cruelty -- police authorities say otherwise

By Jennifer Rose Marino

MOUNT VERNON -- Prison officer Larry Wilkes has always agreed with corporal punishment -- so much so that he gave school officials written permission to paddle his 15-year-old son, Justin.

But when he saw the huge bruises on the freshman's buttocks about a week ago, he was outraged.

"(The bruise) is 10 inches long and six and a half inches wide, all the way across his tail," said Wilkes, who works at Montgomery State Prison. "No three licks is gonna do that. He had to hit my youngun' real hard."

Wilkes, who learned that his son had been paddled by Montgomery County High School Principal Michael Parker, decided to pursue his own justice. After getting the cold shoulder from school authorities, he swore out an arrest warrant in Magistrate Court against Parker.

The Montgomery County Sheriff's Department and the Montgomery County Department of Family and Children Services were contacted; photographs of the injuries were taken; and in the second week of December, Parker was arrested.

"There's nothing wrong with corporal punishment -- as long as it's done the right way," said Wilkes.

"As far as I'm concerned, children are supposed to be paddled as part of the disciplinary procedure. But there's a difference between discipline and abuse."

Parker, who was contacted Monday afternoon, refused to comment except to say that he was not arrested.

But Montgomery County Sheriff Clarance Sanders said that Parker was charged with one count of cruelty to children under 18 and released on bond.

"He was arrested," said Sanders. "He was fingerprinted and everything. He can lie if he wants to."

Montgomery County School Superintendent Jim Paul Poole said that, based on an internal investigation, Parker did nothing wrong when he administered corporal punishment to Justin Wilkes.

"At this point, I don't see any disciplinary action being taken to the principal," said Poole on Monday.

In the hands of Parker, Justin Wilkes received what's known as corporal punishment -- better known in school terminology as "three licks" -- the equivalent of being paddled three times.

The student said Parker knew he "hit me too hard."

"He brought me back in the office and said he'll keep this between us," he said.

That's what's bothering Larry Wilkes, who signed a document that said corporal punishment could be administered to his son at school -- as long as he was notified.

Poole said that Parker tried to call Larry Wilkes on the day of the paddling, but was unsuccessful. He also said that the school sent a letter to Larry Wilkes informing him of the incident.

Larry Wilkes said he received no such letter.

The paddling stemmed from an obscene gesture Justin Wilkes allegedly made at his bus driver.

Wilkes, a 227-pound wrestler and football player who is nearly six feet tall, said he has been sent to the principal's office at least three times in the past year for misbehaving. He said that Parker paddled him in the past, but that the previous paddlings weren't nearly as hard as the most recent one.

A court date for Parker has not yet been set, said Sanders.

Chatham County prohibits corporal punishment, but school officials from 10 other school boards in surrounding counties said that they allow some form of corporal punishment. They say it is closely monitored and is used only in severe circumstances.

McIntosh County school Superintendent Hannah Tostensen said corporal punishment goes on in her schools -- even though she is personally against it.

"I'm not comfortable with it," she said.

"How do you teach children not to be violent and not to strike when you strike them? That's a no-brainer to me."

Municipality reporter Jennifer Rose Marino can be reached at 652-0307.

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