Star-Telegram, August 12, 1999

Irving schools keep paddling permissible
By Mike Lee, Staff Writer

IRVING -- Principals in Irving school district will be able to use corporal punishment when classes start Wednesday, five months after a mother complained that a principal bruised her son by paddling him in a school office.

But school officials must inform parents before they paddle a student -- a change from the past school year. School administrators can still paddle children if their parents object, but that probably will not happen, said Bill Althoff, district director of secondary education.

"Our policy does not require that. However, I feel that if a parent expresses that they do not want that to happen to their child, we would not do it," he said.

The district temporarily stopped using corporal punishment in March, when Ruth Maldonado complained that her 13-year-old son, Pedro, a student at Bowie Middle School, was bruised by Principal James Puryear.

Pedro Maldonado had been taken to the principal's office for fighting. District officials have said that he has a history of tardiness and other discipline problems. Puryear told Pedro Maldonado that he had a choice of taking a paddling or going to an alternative school. Puryear, who is 6 feet 2 inches tall, hit Pedro Maldonado three times with a 2-foot wood paddle.

Pedro Maldonado suffered bruises on his buttocks. A doctor at Children's Medical Center of Dallas and an investigator with Child Protective Services said that the paddling was severe enough to constitute child abuse. Child Protective Services sent a copy of its findings to the school district and the Texas Education Agency, but no disciplinary action has been taken against Puryear.

About half the school districts in the Metroplex allow paddling. In most districts that allow paddling, parents can exempt their children from corporal punishment. Dozens of education groups, including the National Education Association and the National Association of Elementary School Principals, oppose corporal punishment.

Irving Trustee Mike Kunstadt said the school board has the option of changing the policy, but no decision has been made on whether to review it. He said there is some justification for corporal punishment.

"I grew up in a system where it was permissible, and many positive things happened as far as discipline when [paddling] happened. It's a shame that it has to be administered, but I think it sends a pretty good message to others," he said.

Ruth Maldonado said the district shouldn't allow paddling if it will lead to the type of injuries her son suffered.

"There's a difference between spanking a child and abusing a child. If they call that a paddling, they shouldn't paddle," she said.

Manuel Benavides, president of the Irving chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said he was disappointed by the outcome, especially after Child Protective Services called the paddling abusive.

"Me, if I commit child abuse, I'm jailed," he said.

Bob Fathman, a clinical psychologist in Columbus, Ohio, and chairman of the National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment, said the district should at least allow parents to exempt their children from paddling.

"Parents have to give permission before a school can give a child an aspirin. They surely ought not to be able to pick up boards and hit children without [parents'] permission," he said. "There have been lots of studies [that show] districts that ban corporal punishment have lower rates of vandalism and higher graduation rates."

Puryear and Pedro Maldonado will be back at Bowie Middle School this year.

Mike Lee, (817) 685-3858 Send comments to

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