State House members tentatively passed legislation Wednesday night that is intended to get tough on bullies in schools. And then they made sure teachers in most school districts still would be able to paddle them.
After adopting the anti-bullying bill, House members voted 66 to 50 to reject a ban on corporal punishment in public schools. The vote came after many argued that dropping that option would lead to less discipline and more wayward youth.
Proponents for the corporal punishment ban noted that 29 states have done so, as have nearly all industrialized nations. But opponents, who spoke of their own experiences with misbehaving kids, and their own misbehavior as kids, won out.
"I had one teacher, I told him later that I thought he whipped me like a rented mule," said Rep. Ronnie Sutton, a Pembroke Democrat. "But I truly believe that I would have served time in prison, had I not had the discipline that I had in school."
One lawmaker who is a former school teacher, High Point Republican Rep. Laura Wiley, urged her colleagues to adopt the ban. She said she taught in classrooms with kids so unruly they had thrown desks. But she said she was able to control them without resorting to hitting.
"This is something that needs to go away," she said. "We don't need it."
About two in three school districts allow corporal punishment, including Chatham, Johnston, Franklin and Harnett counties. Wake, Durham and Orange counties have banned its use.
Before rejecting the corporal punishment ban, the House voted 72 to 45 to require school districts to adopt an anti-bullying policy that specifically tells teachers and other school officials to look out for particular groups that are likely to be victimized.
Much of the debate over the anti-bullying bill centered on language stating that school officials have to look out for students who are more likely to be victims because of real or perceived characteristics of "gender, gender identity or expression, physical appearance, [or] sexual orientation."
Some argued that the language is an attempt to create special protections for gays and lesbians. Advocates said the language only points out those who are likely targeted and does not designate them as a protected class. An amendment to strike that language failed.
The legislation needs a second vote in the House before it can move to the Senate.
The seemingly conflicting votes left Peggy Dean, a member of the board of directors for Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education, unclear as to the message the House was sending.
"We've effectively said that no one can bully, but P.S., a teacher can pick up a wooden plank and hit you," said Dean, of Union County. "It's very confusing to be a school kid and a parent in North Carolina right now."
Staff writer Dan Kane can be reached at 829-4861 or email@example.com.
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