The State online, February 16, 2001

(South Carolina) Bill backs corporal punishment in schools
By Ken Knelly, Staff Writer

School districts that allow corporal punishment would be protected from civil and criminal liability under a bill being taken up by a Senate subcommittee today.

The measure would prompt more districts to practice physical discipline, said bill sponsor Sen. Andre Bauer, R-Lexington.

"It's almost nonexistent now. And it's not practiced because of a fear of lawsuits," Bauer said. "This just protects them from frivolous lawsuits."

A similar bill was introduced by Bauer last year but did not advance out of the Senate Education Committee.

Under the measure, districts could not be found liable for damages unless the punishment application is grossly negligent or reckless and serious injury results.

The bill also provides that parents would have to be notified for their consent.

Existing state law permits each school district to use corporal punishment when it is deemed "just and proper."

Most of the state's 86 school districts allow corporal punishment in some form, but require parents' approval, said Pat Kinsey, policy services coordinator for the S.C. School Boards Association.

In the Columbia area, Richland 1 is the only district which expressly prohibits corporal punishment. Other local districts report its application is occasional at best.

The rarity is due in part to a concern about lawsuits, but is also due to changing social mores, said Ken Blackstone, a spokesman for Richland District 2 who surveyed some principals on Wednesday.

"I think (lawsuits) are a concern, but that's secondary," he said. "They're primarily concerned about effectiveness."

Drew Hazel, a parent of three in the Irmo-Chapin school system (--) which allows for corporal punishment in its rules but no longer applies it (--) said the change is a bad idea.

"Schools shouldn't be looking at ways to rid themselves of immunity," Hazel said. "We have other alternatives in discipline without resorting to violence."

But Bauer, who serves as a substitute teacher in several school districts, said teachers have requested the changes to promote more discipline in the classroom.

Scott Price, of the S.C. School Boards Association, said the organization does not oppose Bauer's bill.

He said attorneys for state school boards have said they are currently advising districts not to apply corporal punishment because of concerns over litigation.

An estimated 5,400 students in South Carolina, or about 0.8 percent of public school enrollment, were subject to corporal punishment during the 1997-98 school year, according to the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. The total, released in July 2000, is projected based on survey research.

Nationally, 27 states have banned corporal punishment or have no school districts which permit it.

Specifically, the bill would require districts to notify parents or guardians of a desire to apply corporal punishment. Those not wishing their children punished in such a way would be given the option of removing their child from school.

If a parent or guardian who objects could not be notified or does not remove the child, the student would be treated as if under suspension from school. They would be re-admitted at the discretion of the school district. .

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