Tribune-Review, May 12, 2000
Wilkins Twp. case raises punishment debate
By Jonathan Potts
Many local school districts have decided to spare the rod.
Officials at Pittsburgh, Woodland Hills, Mt. Lebanon, North Allegheny and Moon school districts said Thursday they abolished paddling and other forms of corporal punishment years ago.
"Research has shown that physically paddling a child is not an effective discipline tool," said Pat Crawford, director of public affairs for the Pittsburgh Public Schools. "It may hurt for the moment, but it didn't stop kids from doing something again."
The city schools began to phase out corporal punishment in 1970, and formally abolished the practice in 1973, Crawford said.
On Wednesday, Wilkins Township police charged the principal at Faith Christian School with aggravated assault, endangering the welfare of a child and criminal conspiracy for allegedly swatting a fifth-grade student with a 3-foot long pointer. A teacher also was charged with criminal conspiracy and endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the incident.
Pennsylvania law - which applies only to public schools - allows corporal punishment but requires schools to get parents' permission first.
"It's behavior that we don't tolerate among students and it's behavior that we think is inappropriate for disciplining our youngsters," said Glenn Smartschan, superintendent of the Mt. Lebanon School District, which formally eliminated corporal punishment in 1993.
"I've been here 10 years, and I don't know of any time when it was ever used," Smartschan said.
But Louis Chandler, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, said paddling, if done correctly, can be an effective behavioral tool.
"It shouldn't be rejected out of hand, simply because some people have the notion that it creates aggression on the part of the child or whatever," Chandler said.
Many school districts, believing corporal punishment encourages children to be aggressive, eliminated the practice about 10 years ago, Chandler said. But some educators are rethinking that stance, he said. "With the advent of more violence among children in schools, there are people who are resorting to more extreme measures to curb that behavior," Chandler said.
Chandler said a child only should be paddled as a last resort and with parental permission. School officials should spell out clearly what offenses merit corporal punishment, he said, and educators should use their hands, not an object.
"A quick smack on the behind is not the same as beating a child," Chandler said.