When it comes to getting students to behave well, McComb Separate School District favors perks over the paddle.
Interim Superintendent Therese Palmertree said her Pike County district abandoned corporal punishment about 10 years ago and has implemented a program called Positive Behavior Intervention System. The system is designed to reward students for good behavior.
"When you do take the paddle away, you have to put something in place (to administer consequences)," Palmertree said.
But a majority of Mississippi public schools paddle as punishment. According to the state Department of Education, Mississippi schools have reported using corporal punishment 47,727 times during the 2006-07 school year. The Clarion-Ledger found that at least two school districts - Hinds County and Attala - have board policies allowing corporal punishment but did not report how many times it was used.
Hinds County School District Superintendent Stephen Handley said he didn't think that reporting corporal punishment was required. State education communications director Caron Blanton said via e-mail that it's a challenge to keep districts apprised of the information they must submit to the state.
McComb hasn't had that issue. Implementation of its reward program takes three to five years and includes training staff to change its approach to discipline. Instead of paying attention to minor bad behavior, teachers praise those who do well by answering a question correctly or who are well-behaved. Since its implementation, school administrators said serious discipline referrals have been cut by at least 50 percent.
"We're hoping that the positive behavior support system that we have in place will take care of 80 to 90 percent of infractions," Palmertree said. For the rest of the disciplinary problems, the district has a disciplinary ladder in place - time outs, Saturday detentions and an alternative school system.
David Elkin, psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, said that while spankings work in stopping a behavior immediately, they don't necessarily stop children from behaving badly later.
"The question is, (have they) learned from that?" Elkin said. "You haven't taught long-term behavioral change."
Rather than paddling or spanking children, Elkin said parents or administrators can take a more planned approach to how they will discipline their children.
"It also has to be individualized," Elkin said. "You need to get them where it is most meaningfully painful for them."
Even among districts that paddle, leaders say it's not an option that works on every student.
"You've got to change the game plan if it's not working," DeSoto County School District Superintendent Milton Kuykendall said.
During the 2006-07 school year, corporal punishment was used 5,369 times in the 28,000-student district. In order to paddle a student, the school must have parental permission; children can't be hit more than three times with a district-approved paddle; a certified teacher must be a witness and children can opt to receive a different punishment, such as suspension, if they don't want to be paddled.
The parents in DeSoto, Kuykendall said, mostly support the practice. "We never got any parent that sent us a letter in criticism of the policy," Kuykendall said.
Jackson Public Schools board member Sollie Norwood sparked debate when he asked the board to consider reinstating the practice districtwide. JPS stopped using corporal punishment in 1991, when it was determined uneffective in preventing students from misbehaving.
Now board members say the district's gathering research for a public forum on the issue, which has not been scheduled.
Tonja Murphy, a JPS parent, does not like corporal punishment at school.
"I wouldn't feel comfortable with an administrator paddling my child at school," Murphy said. "If there was more input or more structure with the child at home, there wouldn't be a need for corporal punishment at school."
Her 17-year-old daughter, Murrah High School student Alexandria Lee, thought differently, though.
"I think that they should bring it back because it would be pretty beneficial," Lee said. "Some need it; some don't. Some need it more than others.
In the Rankin County district, deputy superintendent Suzanne French said teachers try to first use positive reinforcements to encourage good behavior before picking up the paddle.
She said psychologists work with students, teachers and principals to try to solve the discipline issue, too.
According to the Mississippi Department of Education, the Rankin County district used corporal punishment 1,184 times during the 2006-07 school year. The district has more than 17,000 students.
"There are some children that don't respond to corporal punishment and there are some students that do," French said.
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