McLennan County schools uses spankings sparingly
By Martha Ashe
Waco Tribune-Herald, August 28, 2001

A couple of pops with the paddle for students who misbehave in class is still allowed in many McLennan County school districts, but administrators say they use the rod sparingly.

Students in the Houston Independent School District, the largest school system in Texas, no longer face the possibility of a spanking after trustees there recently banned corporal punishment.

Thousands of McLennan County students, however, still run the risk of being told to bend over if their misdeeds are serious enough.

Corporal punishment is an option in public schools in the Waco, Midway, Robinson and Lorena school districts, among others.

But the student code of conduct for the Waco Independent School District specifically states “it is strongly discouraged as a matter of practice.”

“We don’t encourage paddling, and we tell them you better have (permission) in writing from the parent before you paddle the child,” said Marcia Anderson, WISD director of student management.

Typically, there are three or four cases each school year in which WISD students are paddled, Anderson said, and some years there are none.

The decline in the use of corporal punishment as a means of behavior management stems from a number of factors, school administrators say.

Studies and anecdotal information suggest that paddling is ineffective as a tool to change behavior, they say.

“It doesn’t do any good,” Anderson said. “You end up spanking the same kids over and over again. If it worked, you wouldn’t have to do that.”

Thomas Proctor, chairman of the educational psychology department in Baylor University’s school of education, said he teaches his students, who will themselves become teachers, more effective means of eliciting desired behavior.

“Punishment in general is less effective than teaching students the behaviors we want,” Proctor said.

Proponents of corporal punishment and others contend that student discipline has gone downhill because fewer and fewer schools are paddling kids.

But Proctor said any declining discipline is not the result of less frequent use of corporal punishment. Instead, he said, it’s because schools have not replaced paddling with other means of discipline.

“We’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater,” he said.

More and more, schools are using practices such as isolating students who misbehave, administrators say.

The isolation period, generally called “in-school suspension,” allows students a chance to “cool off,” said Betty Murphy, a longtime educator and principal at Provident Heights Elementary School in Waco.

“It’s a time to regroup,” Murphy said. “They’re at a carrel. It’s a quiet place. It’s an alone time.”

A student assigned to in-school suspension at Provident Heights must write a “letter of restitution,” outlining his misdeeds and describing appropriate behaviors, Murphy said.

They also must complete classroom assignments and discuss their behavior with counselors and an assistant principal, she said.

The districts’ policies regulating corporal punishment also stipulate that administrators get parental permission before paddling a child.

At Lorena Elementary School, parental notification is required before corporal punishment is administered, said principal Kathy Lina.

But parents also are required to submit a letter in writing each year if they object to their child being paddled, Lina said.

Both requirements are just a method to keep the lines of communications open between educators and the parents, she said.

That, Lina said, is instrumental in maintaining classroom behavior.

“We work really close with the parents, and I think that’s a reason we really don’t have those kinds of problems,” she said.

And communicating with parents often frightens students more than the paddling, Lina said.

“A lot of time when they realize we’ve talked to their parents, it’s worse for them than anything else we could do,” she said.

Murphy said the decision to paddle a student should reflect the parents’ philosophy of discipline.

“I don’t advocate it at all, perhaps only as a very, very last resort and that would have to be a family decision,” she said. “I strongly believe that’s a family-type decision that needs to be made by the parents.

“That’s not to say I didn’t take my own children every now and then and paddle them on their own behinds.”

Jim Smith, superintendent of the Robinson school system, said fewer students are getting paddled in part because educators are concerned about being sued by upset parents.

Additionally, a generation of teachers has entered the profession who may not have been spanked by their parents, Smith said.

The reason corporal punishment is still on the books in some districts at all, Smith said, might be because veteran educators see it as a deterrent.

“The paddle is still present, but it may be more that kids have a fear of it than the actual use of it,” he said.

Educators said the decision whether to spank a child is based on a number of factors, including parental preference, the severity of the misdeed and the number of times a student has misbehaved.

Bottom line, they said, the decision must be made on a case-by-case basis.

“I’m not saying that a good, old-fashioned paddling isn’t exactly what a kid needs sometimes,” said WISD’s Anderson. “But it depends on the child.”

Martha Ashe can be reached at or 757-5741.

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