No spanking allowed (in Brookline)
By Monica Deady
Brookline Tab, June 2, 2005

Angry Brookline parents, beware.

Town Meeting passed a nonbinding resolution last week by a narrow margin, encouraging Brookline residents to refrain from using corporal punishment on children.

The resolution, which was debated at Town Meeting two times last year and drew national media attention, encourages parents and caregivers not to use corporal punishment on children, but instead to use alternate nonviolent means of discipline.

Corporal punishment, according to the resolution, is "intentional infliction of physical pain for the purpose of punishment."

Amid some sniping by Town Meeting members, politicians and the petitioner about the article appearing before Town Meeting for a third time, the resolution passed by the slim margin of 89-80.

Before the meeting, a few people stood in the rain handing out stickers that read, "Kids' Safe Zone," with a no-spanking symbol.

"Well, I was relieved and certainly pleased and a little bit surprised," said Ron Goldman, the resolution's petitioner and a Brookline resident. Goldman, who has no children, is an engineering consultant and has a Ph.D. in psychology. He said he was concerned the town boards who requested no action on the resolution would have influenced more of the legislative body's vote. "I hope this contributes to raising awareness. That was the intention."

The resolution also encourages "the appropriate town groups such as the Advisory Council for Public Health and the PTOs explore how they can raise awareness of this issue."

This week, some of those officials were not aware that the resolution included their groups, and others were not sure yet how their group may act.

"It's too soon to tell," said Alan Balsam, director of public health. "I think that the advisory council [for public health] will take it seriously, but where it goes beyond that I'm not sure."

Balsam said he anticipated his group may discuss it at an upcoming meeting in the fall. Runkle School PTO President Christina Suh said she also thought the PTO may discuss it at an upcoming meeting.

"As a PTO, we'd probably discuss it at a board meeting, along with other topics of concern or potential topics for a speaker," she said.

At the Lincoln School, PTO President Beth Kantz said she thinks one of the many forums the school offers could be a good opportunity for discussion.

"The school's philosophy certainly mirrors one that is not supportive of corporal punishment," Kantz said. "I think the PTOs can provide some other [forums] to try to get together to try to learn from each other."

At the Lincoln School, Kantz said the PTO hosts regular Friday coffees for parents and teacher to foster discussion on different topics, as well as other forums, which could serve as discussion points for this issue.

Goldman, meanwhile, said the Board of Selectmen uses a "double standard" for making judgments on what articles to consider favorably at Town Meeting, and said the selectmen and the Advisory Committee made "weak arguments" for suggesting no action on his resolution.

"There is no crisis going on right now ... in regard to corporal punishment," said Ronny Sydney, member of the Advisory Committee. "I don't think this is an issue that is very current or a problem in the town of Brookline."

But Goldman maintained that any instance of corporal punishment justifies a call to action.

"I'm not saying this happens every day, but if it happens once, it's once too many. I think by passing this, we're already making a very strong statement to the community and outside Brookline that this is, corporal punishment, is something we don't encourage, in fact discourage and suggest other alternatives," Goldman said.

During a phone interview Friday, Goldman said he might champion another children's rights issue, but said he did not intend to return to Town Meeting.

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