Corporal punishment's fate in Union County's public schools could be decided Tuesday night, as the Board of Education will try to decide how to handle the issue at a special work session.
The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of Monroe High School. The debate over whether corporal punishment has a place in the school system has left many people divided, and has left a wide difference of opinion among school board members. In the past, Chairman Phil Martin, and members Dean Arp, Monica Frank, and John Crowder have suppported the use of corporal punishment. New board member Kim Rogers made the abolishment of corporal punishment part of her campaign, and John Collins has left room compromise, calling for parental consent or denial to use corporal punishment.
The debate has received the attention of national groups opposed to corporal punishment, like Nospank.org, which calls the practice abusive, violent and archaic. On Feb. 22, Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint sent a letter to Superintendent Jerry Thomas and each of the members of the board of education.
In his letter, Poussaint said the statistics on corporal punishment in Union County were "disquieting." Boys received more paddlings and blacks received a percentage of the paddlings that was more than twice their percentage of the school system's population.
Poussaint is with the Judge Baker Children's Center in Boston and is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. His biographical information said he is a consultant to government agencies and private corporations on race relations in America, prejudice, and diversity and is a proponent of non-violent parenting and parenting education.
Parent Peggy Dean, who has led the charge to get corporal punishment out of the schools, said it is significant for Union County to receive personal input on the issue from an authority on child behavior as Poussaint. Dean said Poussaint was instrumental in recent cases where corporal punishment was removed from schools in Dallas, Texas and Memphis, Tennessee.
Poussaint also drafted a national letter on behalf of the African-American community condeming corporal punishment. Thomas received a copy of the letter when he had his annual meeting with the NAACP. Poussaint also included a copy with the letter he sent to board members.
Dean said she doesn't expect the board to reach a final decision on the matter because the board has appeared split on the issue and because members of the board don't want to acknowledge the school system's policy is not in accord with state law.
"They would not only have to re-write their policy on corporal punishment, but also their Code of Ethics and the Student Code of Conduct," she said. "Everything in those policies and codes points to a positivelearning culture, and they aren't doing that when hitting a child is part of the disciplinary practice."
The law forbids the use of corporal punishment by day cares and pre-schools, dean said, and it should be removed from the schools completely.
"I want it removed," she said. "I don't even want the parental choice. The ones who are telling the schools to go ahead and hit their children are probably beating their kids, too."
Dean said she wants to be clear that she is drawing a distinction between spanking and corporal punishment. Dean said corporal punishment uses a board, unlike spanking which uses the hand. Her concern is parents have no way of knowing how much force is being used by a principal or andministrator when the wooden paddle is swung.
Some teachers, past and present, have approached her, Dean said, but have been afraid to make their stories public for fear of retaliation at work.
"We are the only industrialized nation that still uses corporal punishment in the schools," she said. "You can't beat your dog, or your wife, or a prisoner. Why should be okay to hit a child in 2005?"
HAVE YOU BEEN
TO THE NEWSROOM?