Judge rules schools can't paddle students if parents disagree with policy
By Emily Peters
The Town Talk, December 4, 2003

Schools have no right to swat a child if his parents have requested an alternative discipline, ruled 9th Judicial District Court Judge George Metoyer on Wednesday.

The judge ruled in favor of George and Theresa Setliff, who sued the Rapides Parish School Board and the Northwood High School assistant principal for paddling their son after they repeatedly asked for an alternative method of discipline.

"The school system may not need consent of the parent to paddle a child, but when administration is specifically told not to, another medium of discipline should be found," Metoyer said.

He awarded the Setliff family $45,000 in damages. The Setliff's are also due additional medical costs for treating their son's emotional disorders they claimed were worsened by the paddling incident.

Assistant Principal William Floyd paddled the Setliff's then-9-year-old son for biting another pupil in February 2001. Floyd said he forgot the Setliff's asked him not to do so.

Metoyer said he is not condemning the practice of corporal punishment, but "the mere fact that the student is in the hands of the school system does not give any one administrator or teacher the right to paddle that child as they so choose."

The Setliff's lawyer, Silas O'Neal, declared the judgement a victory for parents' rights.

A few Rapides Parish schools send home letters at the beginning of the year asking parents if it is alright to paddle their children at school, but those letters are not required.

State law does not say schools need permission from the parents to conduct corporal punishment.

In recent history, the School Board has prevailed over everyone that has sued them for corporal punishment.

In the past few months, the Rapides Parish School Board has considered banning paddling to avoid lawsuits.

Even though the district usually wins the corporal punishment lawsuits, the defense costs can prove costly, said Lyle Hutchinson, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

"I don't disagree with (corporal punishment)," Hutchinson said. "I just don't like the way our principals get arrested and treated like thugs for following policy."

However, the corporal punishment policy remains intact. Students can receive no more than six swats with a regulation paddle with a witness present.

Laura Sylvester, lawyer for Floyd and the School Board, said she is not sure if her clients want to appeal.

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