Paddling Prohibited -- McAllen schools officially outlaw penalty Paddling Prohibited -- McAllen schools officially outlaw penalty
By Kathryn Walson
The Monitor, August 11, 2004

McALLEN, TX — The McAllen school district has set itself apart from other school districts by banning paddling.

Responding to a recommendation from school district administrators, the McAllen School Board recently voted to remove the school district’s corporal punishment policy from the new Student Code of Conduct. As a result, paddling is officially prohibited, although it’s been years since administrators swatted students to set them straight, said Peggy Fiveash, assistant superintendent for student support services.

"We had told the principals, ‘This is not a good idea. Don’t do this,’ " she said.

Fiveash said she expects principals to continue to rely on the same non-physical discipline — such as detentions and in-school suspensions — that they’ve used for years.

"In my personal opinion, I think there are other alternatives that can accomplish what paddling is intended to do," she said.

The state lets school districts decide whether to use corporal punishment. Local school districts, including PSJA, Hidalgo, Mission, Edinburg, La Joya and Sharyland, have a paddling policy on their books. Despite the policy, La Joya does not permit paddling, a school district official said. Other local school districts let each principal decide whether to use corporal punishment on their campus. Most principals choose not to, while a few principals break out the paddle just a couple of times a year, school officials said.

"The trend is moving away from spanking," said Craig Verley, spokesman for the Mission school district.

School districts’ corporal punishment policies vary, but most share the following requirements: the student has to be told why he’s getting paddled; only principals, assistant principals and teachers who are the same sex as the student can paddle; the paddle has to be approved by administrators; another employee has to be present; and the paddling must take place out of view of the student’s classmates.

The paddling typically consists of one to three swats with a paddle to the backside, school administrators said. The swats aren’t meant to hurt, but to help students understand consequences of their actions, they said. The paddling is usually preceded with or followed by a counseling session, they said.

"You don’t just want to paddle them. You want to talk to them about changing their behavior," said Irma Duran, Hidalgo school district’s executive director for curriculum and instruction. She said she infrequently paddled female students at Hidalgo High School, where she worked as principal through last school year.

The school districts’ policies say they will honor written requests from parents who do not want their students to be paddled. While some parents may disapprove of administrators swatting their children, others ask principals to administer corporal punishment, some administrators said.

Although La Joya school district’s board policy allows for paddling, administrators know paddling is unofficially prohibited and they will be let go for using corporal punishment, said Alicia Garza, administrative assistant for student services. Administrators plan to officially ban corporal punishment in the coming months, she said.

"We’re beyond that," Garza said. "I think it (paddling) is demeaning. You get more out of talking to kids and reasoning with them."

Paddling started to lose its popularity in the 1980s when the concept of discipline changed and the role of educators evolved, some administrators said.

Joe Puente, new principal at McAllen Rowe High School, said he ended paddling at Morris Middle School in the late 1980s, and he noticed that other principals stopped around the same time.

"Most administrators agreed it wasn’t worth the (risk of) litigation," Puente said.

Arturo Guajardo, superintendent of PSJA school district, said he doesn’t know of any PSJA administrators who use corporal punishment.

"I don’t believe we have principals who want to (paddle), but they could," he said.

He said he is sorry paddling is "a thing of the past."

"When I was a principal (at Ford Elementary), I used it every day, but that was the ’80s," he said. "(Paddling) was a way of disciplining children, and it worked. I wish it would come back."
Guajardo said it would take support from the community to revive corporal punishment in schools.

Edward Blaha, new principal of Hidalgo High School, said that if he uses paddling at all, it will be as "a last resort," and he may let the student decide between paddling or another punishment. Some students choose paddling because it is quicker than more time-consuming alternatives, such as in-school suspensions, Duran said.

Previously, as Diaz Junior High School principal, Blaha gave one swat apiece to between six and 10 students last year, he said. Most of the time, other approaches — such as meetings with parents — achieve results, he said.

"We want to make sure we can help the student with his or her behavior," Blaha said.


Kathryn Walson covers education and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach her at (956) 683-4434.

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