Black students received corporal punishment in Union County last year well out of proportion to their numbers in the student population.
The findings come from an Observer analysis of the three Union schools that used corporal punishment the most in the 2003-04 school year. Critics of corporal punishment maintain that minorities and other groups such as the disabled receive it at higher rates than others.
The issue is under scrutiny in Union where the practice has been suspended as school officials reconsider their policy after strong parental opposition.
During Union's 2003-04 school year, corporal punishment was used 474 times at eight of the district's 34 schools..
The three schools examined -- East Union Middle in Marshville, Western Union Elementary in Waxhaw and Walter Bickett Elementary in Monroe -- together accounted for more than 85 percent of corporal punishment use in the district that year. East Union accounted for roughly half, and Western Union another quarter.
• At East Union, blacks received 58 percent of the paddlings but make up 30 percent of the school's population.
• At Walter Bickett, blacks received 82 percent of the paddlings and make up 47 percent of the population.
• At Western Union Elementary, blacks received 46.5 percent of the paddlings and make up 19 percent of the population.
District spokeswoman Luan Ingram has said the principals at East Union and Western Union, both now retired, had support from their communities in using corporal punishment. East Union no longer uses the practice and incidents have dropped at Western Union, according to school district data. The principal of Walter Bickett could not be reached Friday.
Union school officials say there is no evidence of bias in how the punishment was used.
"The race of a student and the behavior they engaged in are two separate things," Ingram said. "Students were disciplined for behaviors, not for their race."
"I had thought the percentages were pretty close to equal" for blacks and whites, said Phil Martin, Union County Board of Education chair. Martin, who is for keeping corporal punishment, said he'd have to examine each incident to comment further.
But educators against corporal punishment say minorities, specifically blacks, are hit at least twice as often as white children, says Nadine Block, executive director of the Columbus, Ohio-based nonprofit corporal punishment opponent, the Center for Effective Discipline. A U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights study made the same findings.
"I don't know why," Block said. But "there is the appearance of discrimination."
In December, black organizations and leaders, including the NAACP, signed a proclamation calling for a national ban on corporal punishment.
Critics say other groups of children also receive the punishment at a disproportionate rate.
In Union County, boys of all races received corporal punishment at a rate far higher than girls. At the three Union schools, 76 percent to 85 percent of the paddlings were given to boys.
It's not unusual to hear boys, even at the kindergarten level, are being disciplined more frequently and severely than girls, Block said.
"A lot of girls are hit, but there is the perception that girls are nicer, making them hard to hit," she said. "Boys, in general, are a little less mature than girls at the beginning of school. More boys are held back in school, or put into special education."
Public acceptance for the punishment has waned in recent years due to changing social standards and increased litigation, according to the National Association of School Psychologists.
The association estimates more than 250,000 children are struck each year in public schools, with a disproportionate number being minorities and disabled children. The association says corporal punishment can easily be abused, and that evidence indicates it can harm a student's social, psychological and educational development.
A federal study of the 1999-2000 school year found Union used corporal punishment on disabled students more than any other district in the state, with 85 instances. In 2003-04, 61 of the 474 incidents involved children with some sort of disability.
Union school officials have pointed out that children with learning disabilities and emotional difficulties are classified as disabled.
Proponents of corporal punishment describe it as a choice that school administrators and parents should have the right to make. They say it can be more favorable than suspensions because children don't miss class time.
Union suspended corporal punishment three weeks ago, but the issue isn't settled.
While the superintendent wants it abolished, the board is split, with the chairman and head of the policy committee saying they want to keep it. The school board has scheduled a work session March 9 to discuss the policy.
Emily S. Achenbaum: (704) 289-6576; firstname.lastname@example.org
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