(South Carolina) The Herald, February 26, 2001

Quit spanking students

Here's an idea: When students misbehave, put them in a room and force them to listen to old Barry Manilow songs.

That's just one alternative to corporal punishment. We're sure imaginative school officials can come up with other ways to punish students that stop short of physical assault.

Corporal punishment is archaic. That is driven home by the difficulties the Legislature is encountering in trying to fashion a bill to protect school districts from lawsuits when they administer swats. Many state educators say the bill is more likely to provoke lawsuits than to protect educators.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Andre Bauer, R-Lexington, a substitute teacher who has proposed it before. It states that districts can be sued if corporal punishment is meted out in grossly negligent or reckless manner and results in serious injury.

But that would open the door to lawsuits, according to Dale Stuckey, state Education Department chief legal counsel. He believes the language in the bill is too broad. Determinations about what represents gross negligence, recklessness or even a serious injury would have to be made in court.

Existing state law permits school districts to use corporal punishment when it is deemed "just and proper." And many of the state's 86 school districts have enacted policies designed to guard against potential lawsuits. Most, for example, require parental consent, a requirement also included in the new bill.

But while schools are permitted to use corporal punishment, many choose not to. And even those that do administer such punishment do so sparingly. Last year, only about 0.8 percent, or 5,426 of the state's students, were swatted.

Schools clearly are resorting to other means to control students. That, we think, is a welcome trend. Whatever benefits might be derived from swatting students can't justify the risks either of injuring students or inviting legal retaliation.

Finally, we have to wonder what lesson students learn when they are punished by being subjected to physical pain. Isn't it possible that some will assume that a beating also is the best way to keep spouses or children in line?

Schools in the 21st century ought to relegate swats to the history books. In this day and age, we can think of better ways to torture students.

Maybe Frank Sinatra songs would be better than Barry Manilow's.

Copyright 2000 The Herald. Rock Hill, South Carolina

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