Paddling Foes Get Change in Amendment on Liability
By Jodi Wilgoren
The New York Times, May 11, 2001

After intense lobbying by opponents of paddling in schools, the Senate on Wednesday changed the wording of legislation protecting teachers from lawsuits to say explicitly that it was not intended to affect policies regarding corporal punishment.

The legislation, an amendment to President Bush's education package, passed the Senate 98 to 1. The Senate is expected to vote next week on the package, reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Corporal punishment in schools is legal in 23 states, and the Department of Education estimated that 365,000 students were paddled in the 1997-98 school year, the most recent for which data is available.

Spanking opponents, helped by the lobbyists for trial lawyers, have flooded the Senate in recent days with e-mail messages complaining that the teacher protection amendment would block parents from suing if their children were injured by corporal punishment.

President Bush and Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who sponsored the amendment, said it had nothing to do with corporal punishment but was aimed at reducing frivolous lawsuits against educators. They cited a 1999 survey of school principals showing that 25 percent were involved in lawsuits, up from 9 percent a decade earlier.

"Our teachers face a hard enough task teaching reading, writing and arithmetic without having to worry about baseless lawsuits," Mr. McConnell said in a statement.

At the urging of Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, Mr. McConnell added a line to his amendment saying, "Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect any state or local law (including a rule or regulation) or policy pertaining to the use of corporal punishment." The legislation protects educators from lawsuits related to their work unless harm results from "gross negligence" or "reckless misconduct."

Nadine Block of the Center for Effective Discipline, an anticorporal punishment group in Columbus, Ohio, praised the Senate's action, saying it sent "paddles one step closer to their rightful place in the Smithsonian Horror Hall of Fame."

Copyright 2001 The New York Times

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