Grandmother sues over boy's being paddled; Punishment went too far, she says Grandmother sues over boy's being paddled; Punishment went too far, she says
By MICHELLE E. SHAW, Staff Writer, October 7, 2004

MURFREESBORO A Rock Springs Middle School student and his grandmother are suing the school, its assistant principal and the Rutherford County school system over a 2003 paddling they say went too far.

Judy Martinez said her grandson ''is no angel,'' but the severity of the corporal punishment Wesley Martinez received was ''way out of line,'' so much so that her grandson, who was 13 at the time of the paddling, is named as the plaintiff in a $75,000 civil lawsuit in Rutherford County Circuit Civil Court.

She said the paddling left three bruises on her grandson's backside: one just above the right knee, another in the middle of the left thigh and one on his lower right buttock.

When reached by phone at his home, Rock Springs Assistant Principal Joel Rowlett would not comment on the allegations.

James Evans, spokesman for Rutherford County schools, also would not comment. He said it is standard policy that the system does not comment on matters in litigation.

The suit, filed last month, says the punishment was carried out in an unreasonable manner. It also says that Wesley had to get medical treatment for torn muscles in his back as a result of the punishment.

Martinez, 61, of Smyrna said the suit stems from the discipline Wesley, now 14, received for an incident that occurred during breakfast at the school Sept. 6, 2003.

''I threw a packet of ketchup on the floor in the cafeteria,'' Wesley said. He said he ''was going to sweep it up because I was supposed to clean the floor that day, but I got called to the office instead.''

Martinez said Rowlett called her around 8:45 a.m. that day and told her that Wesley was in trouble and he was going to be suspended or he could be paddled.

''I didn't want him to be suspended,'' she said, ''so I gave my permission for him to be paddled, but I had no idea it would be like that.''

According to Wesley, Rowlett hit him ''like he was swinging a baseball bat.''

''It felt like a bunch of bees stinging me,'' said the boy, who is now in the eighth grade and still attends the school. ''I couldn't walk good after that and my legs hurt real bad.''

Paddling is legal in Tennessee and it is up to each school system to apply the state law on corporal punishment, said Kim Karesh, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education. State law does not address the degree of force used during a paddling or what type paddle should be used.

Martinez said that once she found out the district attorney's office would not press charges against the assistant principal, she decided to file the civil suit.

''If I'd done that to them, the kids would have been out of my house and I'd be behind bars.''

She said her grandson did not deserve a paddling that left bruises.

''I didn't want him to be suspended, but I didn't want the crap beat out of him, either. I mean, Wesley is no angel, and I'm not trying to paint him as one, but no child deserves what he got.''

Tennessee law

The state law says any teacher or school principal may use corporal punishment in a reasonable manner against any pupil for good cause in order to maintain discipline and order within the public schools. The law also gives each local board of education the right to adopt rules and regulations as it deems necessary to implement and control any form of corporal punishment in the schools in its district.

Rutherford County Board of Education policy

The Rutherford County school board does not require the permission of either a child's parent or guardian before corporal punishment is administered. The board's policy on corporal punishment says the punishment should be ''reasonable,'' but does not specify any exact offenses when paddling should be used. The policy also says consideration of the offender's age, sex, size, physical and emotional condition should be considered when determining the degree of punishment.

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