Protecting children at school
By Chris Fitzsimon, NC Policy Watch, April 11, 2007

North Carolina is known across the country for its innovative programs to help children, including Smart Start and More at Four. The state has made major gains in immunization rates and providing health care for children whose families can’t afford to buy it. Helping children is always featured prominently in speeches of politicians asking for our votes.

In many ways, the state leads the nation in how it treats its children. But in others, it is shockingly behind, with laws that seem to lag a century behind the enlightened attitudes that help create Smart Start and other initiatives to help kids. One of those laws was on display at the General Assembly Wednesday, as a House Committee considered legislation to ban corporal punishment in the schools.

North Carolina still allows school personnel to hit children as a form of discipline. The decision rests with local school districts and 68 of them allow the use of corporal punishment, while 47 prohibit it.

It is hard to say which is more disturbing, the fact that there even needs to be a discussion about banning corporal punishment, or the debate itself, in which groups like the North Carolina Family Council say that hitting children with a paddle can be an effective form of discipline when applied in a “caring manner.”

The sponsors of the bill remained calm and thoughtful in the face of the arguments by the Council and the N.C. School Boards Association, whose lobbyists said the decision should be left up to local school boards and also related a few anecdotes to the committee, including that parents in Burke County are clamoring to get their children into a school in which administrators administer corporal punishment.

Rep. Rick Glazier, one of the sponsors of the ban and a former Chair of the Cumberland County School Board, said that be believes adamantly in local control of school policies, except when the policy allows people to hit children.

Speakers from the North Carolina Association of Educators, the UNC School of Social Work and the North Carolina PTA all spoke in support of the ban, as did a parent who started an organization to prevent violence against children in schools.

Their arguments about the culture created by corporal punishment administered by authority figures, the bad example it provides for kids, and the research that shows it is not an effective way to discipline children who misbehave seemed to build an irrefutable case for the ban for legislators who somehow were undecided on the issue.

But it wasn’t enough for some lawmakers like Rep. Mark Hilton and Rep. David Almond, who both spoke out against the ban, citing the deterrence value of corporal punishment and saying the bill would remove a vital tool for discipline in schools that have discipline problems. Hilton said the bill is one step away from the state coming into your home and saying you can’t spank your own children.

In the end, the committee passed the ban in a bipartisan vote and the bill now goes to the House Education Committee. Let’s hope the words of Rep. Laura Wiley go with it.

Wiley spent years teaching kids with emotional problems and told the committee she never dreamed of striking one of them and the thought of taking a board to a child turns her stomach. As to the deterrent effect, Wiley said “looking at a 1st grader and holding a paddle and saying you will behave or else goes back to barbaric days.”

Good for Wiley and for the committee, for nudging the state toward the 21st century.



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