Beginning next fall, paddling will no longer be allowed in any Memphis public school.
In a tense marathon meeting Monday night, the school board voted 5-4 to abolish corporal punishment, replacing it with a package of alternative disciplinary measures.
"It's just gratifying to know that we have come to a place where we're going to respect our children and treat them with decency," said a grinning Lora Jobe, the outgoing board member who waged a seven-year fight to end corporal punishment.
The decision prompted mixed reactions from parents and teachers who packed the auditorium; based on applause, the crowd appeared to favor retaining the option to paddle.
Parent Tonya Harris predicted dire consequences.
"The kids are waiting up on this news, and there's going to be fights, starting (today)," she said.
Board member Michael Hooks, who voted against the proposal, also feared the potential for disruption.
"I just foresee it causing situations in the long run where students believe you can no longer be disciplined," he said. "I hope not."
South Side High teacher David Hill, though, praised the decision.
"I think it's a move in the right direction for Memphis City Schools," he said. "I think it's a vote of confidence in the teachers and administration."
Supt. Carol Johnson proposed a "Blue Ribbon Behavior Initiative" that offers alternative methods to enforce discipline, with work on the proposal beginning almost immediately. Johnson's plan calls for:
Behavior and social skills curriculum implemented in each school.
School problem-solving teams.
Consequences like Saturday school or community service to keep students on the right path.
"Alternative programming" that could include therapeutic or mental health support.
Loss of sports participation privileges for unruly students, as well as other possible sanctions.
Enhancing recognition for those who perform well.
"The real work begins now," said Johnson, who added that she was happy with the decision. "The vote is step one, the first tentative step to focusing on an efficient strategy for safe schools and respectful behavior."
Charles New, president of the Memphis Education Association, the teachers' union, hopes the new proposals will enforce discipline, but remains wary.
"Our position has been that if you wanted to abolish corporal punishment, you needed to have plans in place to deal with disruptive students," he said. "We feel that what was presented tonight was a plan, but it wasn't in place. We didn't see the money in there."
The meeting had its share of drama, beginning with the vote. With the tally tied at 4-4, board chairman Patrice Robinson cast the deciding "aye" vote, shocking Jobe and fellow board member Deni Hirsh, who thought the proposal was going to be voted down.
Corporal punishment opponent Timothy McKay was removed by security after he spoke without permission, calling paddling "racist" and "brutal."
Jobe, Hirsh, Robinson, Sara Lewis and Carl Johnson voted for the measure. Hooks, Hubon 'Dutch' Sandridge, Willie Brooks and Wanda Halbert voted against it.
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