Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 11, 2001

Arkansas schools still using paddle
Osceola School District: 1,800 students; 1,752 paddlings in one year
by Shannon Magsam

SPRINGDALE -- Jim Lewis got his share of "licks" with a paddle when he was a student in public school. Now that he's a principal himself, he paddles students only on rare occasions and as a last resort.

"Most principals now are far from the disciplinarians that principals used to be," said Lewis, principal at George Elementary in Springdale. He uses his wooden paddle about four times a school year and only with parents' consent. The principal was reluctant even to talk about paddling, since it's such a small a part of what goes on in his school.

"It's not who I am," he said.

Instead of giving licks, Lewis likes to work with the child and his parents on behavior changes when discipline problems arise. "The modeling that all of you do is more powerful than anything you say," Lewis told a family during a conference on Friday. He advised them to lean away from spankings, which the mother said often amounted to "swatting" her child as she was sent to her bedroom. "Paddlings and spankings are usually short-term fixes," he said.

Arkansas is one of 23 states that still allow corporal punishment in its public schools. Twenty-seven states have now banned the practice, up from five states in 1986.

The Arkansas Board of Education adopted a resolution in 1993 urging school districts to pass policies against corporal punishment, saying such punishment wasn't in line with national education goals. Nevertheless, about 90 percent of Arkansas' 310 school districts allow the practice, and the Arkansas Legislature has declined several times over the years to ban it.

"I don't think the Legislature would philosophically support banning it," said Jim Argue, D-Little Rock. "It represents a rural, male-dominated culture that sees corporal punishment as an acceptable tool of discipline."

Argue said he's in the minority as a lawmaker against the practice. He decided to stop spanking his own children after punishing his young daughter one day. His daughter wondered aloud why he would hit her as punishment for hitting her sister. The irony struck him.

"She kind of taught me a lesson," he said. "I don't think violence is a good tool [to encourage] nonviolence."

The legislature's inaction reflects the desires of many parents. Arkansas school officials said parents often urge administrators and teachers to paddle their children more often than they are willing. "We discourage it," said Hartzell Jones, deputy superintendent for personnel in the Springdale School District. "But a lot of parents want us to spank their kids.

"Some people don't think a good spanking is child abuse. They think the Bible supports that."

Arkansas leaves the decision up to individual school districts. If a district does allow paddling, it must have a policy that outlines the process. Paddling must be done in private with a qualified witness, not out in the hall or in a classroom.

Generally, paddlings are more prevalent in rural districts than in larger urban districts, school administrators said. About 10 districts have elected to ban the practice, including all Pulaski County public schools. The risk of lawsuits is one major deterrent, although courts have been fairly supportive of school districts unless there was blatant violence, said Charlie Russell, assistant superintendent for secondary education in the Rogers School District.

"Courts have not been anxious to intervene," he said. Corporal punishment is rarely used in his district, Russell said. "There are some who have real concerns about it being a violent act," he said.

However, he acknowledged, "We still have a good number of parents who are supportive of that." While parents are accustomed to the notion of paddling, some children are mystified by the very mention of it. Cassie Beers, 12, of Bentonville said she has never known anyone who has been paddled even though as a junior high student, she's at an age when paddlings most often occur. She was in middle school in Bentonville last year and in Oklahoma schools before that.

"I've never heard of anyone getting hit at any school I've ever gone to," she said.

Many education groups and professional psychiatric and psychology organizations are opposed to corporal punishment. Most have taken the position that corporal punishment perpetuates a cycle of abuse. There is also the argument that schools are the only institution in American in which striking another person is legally sanctioned. It's not allowed in prisons, the military or in mental hospitals.

When the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union gets complaints about injuries stemming from corporal punishment in schools, parents are told to take pictures and call the Department of Human Services, said Rita Sklar, ACLU executive director.

Last school year, Arkansas students were spanked 62,215 times, according to the Arkansas Department of Education. [Emphasis added] That would be one spanking each for about 13.9 percent of students in the state's public schools. The National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment lists Arkansas as No. 2 on its list of "Our Ten Worst States." Mississippi is at the top of the list, which is based on the percentage of students paddled statewide.

Some Arkansas districts have a corporal punishment policy but rarely paddle students. For instance, the 8,150-student Fayetteville School District reportedonly one paddling in the 1999-2000 school year. The Bentonville district reported 23 paddlings, while the Springdale district reported eight.

The Rogers School District reported none.

That's compared to the 1,800-student Osceola School District, which racked up 1,752 paddlings that same year. [Emphasis added] Osceola Superintendent Bruce Young was surprised by that total. "Yes, we do use it extensively, but I think we're using it less than we did a few years ago," he said.

With lawsuits so widespread, the district diligently stays within Arkansas law, which allows a principal or other certified employee to paddle a student in the presence of a witness who is also certified, he said. Common practice is three "licks," he said.

"In some cases it helps," Young said. "Corporal punishment, if administered correctly, is not designed to injure, it's psychological. I think it says to a student you must be submissive to authority." Young said "Saturday School" is one reason the number of paddlings has declined in the Osceola district. He introduced this discipline measure to Osceola when he started work there in 1997. A large number of high school students opt for paddling over Saturday school or detention, he said.

"Obviously it's viewed as less of a threat," he said. That's a sorry trade-off, said Randy Cox, a retired social worker who established the Little Rock-based Never Hit a Child organization in 1995. "It's kind of a corrupt way of putting them in a position of voluntarily submitting to this treatment," he said. Cox operates the Web site and corresponds with similar agencies all over the world. Cox has written letters to Arkansas legislators stating his view on the subject, but the Legislature has failed several times to support abolishing corporal punishment.

"That's not going to happen soon," he said. "It's provocative and potentially volatile. "It's not popular."

Cox has some experience with unpopularity. He has a bumper sticker with his Web site's address on it and it garners a lot of reaction. "It strikes up conversation sometimes," he said. "And dirty looks often. People consider that personal business."

Cox maintains that students in states that ban corporal punishment are more successful in life and school. Cox, like others against the practice, argued that states who allow it have poorer academic achievement, more pupil violence and higher drop out rates.

"There's no evidence that it does any good and a lot of evidence it does harm," he said.

The principal at George Elementary said there are some students he would never consider paddling. A student who has a history of abuse, for instance.Lewis said he would never paddle a student more than twice. But Lewis said mainly he's interested in creating the right atmosphere in the school, which includes having a rapport with students. "Discipline is such a small part of what I do," he said.

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