Christine Somma could have expected bad bagels and worse pizza when she moved from Yorktown to Union County, N.C., in August.
But Somma couldn’t believe her eyes when her two boys came home from the first day of school with forms requiring her to sign off on the district’s disciplinary policies, including the use of corporal punishment.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Somma, a professional educator with 20 years experience in speech—language pathology and educational neuropsychology. “I have e-mailed all my friends back in New York, and the reaction is ubiquitous – horrified. Everyone feels the same way.”
She and her husband, whose job was relocated to nearby Charlotte, scouted out the schools in advance and were impressed. But Somma finds it unconscionable that a policy like this persists in North Carolina and 21 other states.
“That was my reaction when I got here,” she said. “I said, ‘How dare you advertise wonderful schools and forget mention you beat the children?”
Her family lives in an apartment while they wait for their new home to be ready. But Somma, who lived in Yorktown for nine years and had a practice in the Heights, was nevertheless ready to sell and move to a neighboring school district where corporal punishment is banned.
She was told by Union County school officials the controversial disciplinary approach hadn’t been practiced since 2005 and that it was primarily reserved for students with special needs.
That response further fueled her ire.
She soon found herself addressing the school board, something she rarely did in Yorktown, and even then only in regard to less controversial issues.
Somma challenged school trustees, half of whom endorse corporal punishment, to provide some scientific basis for their position. With an election approaching in November, she vows to campaign against school board candidates who support the practice and back those who don’t.
“My hope is that we can get rid of some of these people, but the bigger picture is the mentality that goes along with this,” Somma said.
Despite the outrage from friends back home, Somma has encountered apathy in her new hometown. She has joined forces with one woman who has fought the practice for two years. Together they are lobbying for a ban on corporal punishment at the local and state levels.
She knows she’s in for a fight as a northern transplant taking on the southern establishment.
“I didn’t come down here to take on the entire community, but you know what? Sometimes you feel compelled to do something,” Somma said, glad at least to set an example for her two boys and to educate others who are unaware the practice persists.
“I really want people to understand that it’s alive and well,” she said.
Somma refers anyone interested in learning more about the practice of corporal punishment to the Web site www.nospank.net.
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