Dallas Independent School District may end paddling - Some black trustees say corporal punishment is part of their culture
By TAWNELL D. HOBBS / The Dallas Morning News
June 18, 2003
DISD administrators are proposing an end, or at least a sharp curtailing, to one of the oldest forms of schoolhouse punishment: the paddle.

But the idea of ending corporal punishment is meeting resistance from black trustees who cite a cultural preference for paddling.

The issue will get a full airing by trustees Wednesday, a week after it was broached at a committee meeting. It's the second time in recent years that the district has considered changes to its corporal punishment policy.

Nationally, 27 states have banned corporal punishment. Texas is among 23 states where it remains legal, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The state leaves it up to school districts to determine whether students may be struck as punishment, and DISD has allowed paddling without a parent's permission.

Some area districts have banned the practice, while others require parents to sign a waiver allowing educators to paddle their children.


Area school districts have a variety of approaches toward corporal punishment. A sampling of some district policies toward paddling:

  • Arlington: Not allowed
  • Carrollton-Farmers Branch: Not allowed
  • Coppell: Not allowed
  • Dallas: Allowed
  • Duncanville: Allowed, but parents may opt out
  • Fort Worth: Not allowed
  • Grand Prairie: Allowed, but parents may opt out
  • Lewisville: Allowed
  • Mesquite: Allowed
  • Richardson: Not allowed
  • Rockwall: Allowed, but parents may opt out
H.B. Bell, DISD's associate superintendent of alternative programs, said he had no figures on the number of kids paddled because the Dallas Independent School District doesn't compile them. The district said it doesn't track which campuses employ the "board of education," although trustees believe there aren't many.

But Dr. Bell, who is black, told trustees during the committee meeting last week that his impression is that black students get the punishment more than others. He thinks the district should scrap the punishment.

"For the most part, there are only black students being administered corporal punishment," Dr. Bell said.

Trustees split

Still, some black trustees say they're wary of Superintendent Mike Moses' suggestion that corporal punishment be allowed only on campuses that get the approval of 80 percent of parents.

"If it's not broke, don't fix it," said trustee Ron Price, who added that he isn't alarmed by Dr. Bell's statement about who gets paddled.

"That's our discipline style," Mr. Price said. "A paddle is part of a principal's toolbox. If we remove that tool, we may open up a can of worms that cannot be closed."

Trustee Lew Blackburn, a former assistant principal, said the paddle acts as a deterrent.

"In my culture, using a belt and switch is not out of line," he said. "It was used on me, and I think I turned out OK."

A majority of DISD trustees - at least five - say they don't support paddling.

"I think if a parent wants corporal punishment administered, the parent should be the person to administer that corporal punishment," said trustee Ken Zornes.

Board members Rafael Anchia, Joe May, George Williams and Lois Parrott also said they oppose corporal punishment.

"I think at the end of the day parents need to decide," Mr. Anchia said.

Trustee Jack Lowe said he hasn't given the issue much thought.

As with any district policy, changes would require a board vote.

DISD board President Hollis Brashear supports corporal punishment, but he said there are more important issues to confront, such as the annual budget and curriculum matters. He said that when the subject was broached about 2 years ago, there wasn't community support to throw out the policy.

Mr. Brashear said he would withhold judgment on Dr. Moses' recommendation until he hears from fellow trustees and parents. But he said that in his 11 years on the board, no parent has asked to do away with corporal punishment.

"There's some concern that we might be making a mountain out of a molehill," Mr. Brashear said.

Groups weigh in

But corporal punishment is a topic parents and advocacy groups often weigh in on. Some, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, have come out against it.

"Corporal punishment may affect adversely a student's self-image and school achievement and ... contribute to disruptive and violent student behavior," says an American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement.

A U.S. Department of Education survey in 1999 found that nearly 74,000 of Texas' 3.9 million students were paddled that year. About 83 percent were boys, the survey said.

According to the federal study, blacks made up 14 percent of Texas students but 24 percent of those paddled. Whites were 43 percent of students and 51 percent of those paddled, while Hispanics were 40 percent of students and 24 percent of those paddled.

Joyce Kelly, who has children in DISD schools, said she's in favor of throwing out the practice.

"You can't use it in the home, so why should you be able to use it in school?" Ms. Kelly said.

Dr. Bell, who recommends that DISD end corporal punishment, said it is no longer effective.

"They're not amenable to ... swats as they were at one time," said Dr. Bell, a former principal.

Mr. Williams said there are alternatives to paddling, such as alternative school. "We have ways of dealing with children today in a better method than I think we were dealt with," he said.

Author's email: tdhobbs@dallasnews.com

Dallas Morning News Editor's email: letterstoeditor@DallasNews.com

See Riak's letter to Dallas Morning News (6/18/03) re: "Dallas Independent School District may end paddling"
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