To spank or not to spank? Corporal punishment in Tennessee

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DANDRIDGE (WATE) – Although corporal punishment in American schools has declined in recent decades, paddling is still on the books in several counties in East Tennessee.

In school systems where it remains deeply wove in culture and tradition, some school administrators say corporal punishment has broad support from parents, that it preserves learning time that would be lost to a suspension and they see little need to give up a practice that dates back generations. However, the U.S. Education Department, whose statistics show that more than 100,000 students are subjected to corporal punishment annually, has been urging schools through its “ReThink Discipline” initiative to create safe and supportive climates that emphasize positive behavior.

Several medical and human rights groups have called for an end to a practice criticized as ineffective and potentially harmful. Debate spiked in April after a mother in Georgia aired video of a Jasper County school official holding her crying kindergartner as he was about to be paddled and said she regretted giving the school permission to discipline him that way.

Many states have outlawed corporal punishment in schools, but Tennessee is one of 19 states that still allow paddling in school. Each school system decides for itself.

School systems that allow corporal punishment include Claiborne Cocke, Fentress, Grainger, Greene, Hawkins, Jefferson, Loudon, Monroe, Scott and Anderson counties. However, other school districts, like Campbell County, Hawkins County, Union County, Knox County, Roane County, Anderson County, Blount County, Hamblen County, Maryville City and Oak Ridge City have decided to take the practice off their books.

Jefferson County Superintendent Charles Edmonds said paddling is not the first line of punishment, but it is an alternate that can be used. He said they exhaust other remedies first.

“You have stood in place of the parent in the school environment; therefore you act as a parent. A parent paddles, you can paddle,” said Edmonds.

Under the Jefferson County School Board policy any student can be paddled, regardless of parental consent. Edmonds said three students have been paddled so far this year and they were all in elementary school.

“We have a lot of parents that request that they be paddled. They would rather they be paddled than have in school suspension or something else they might get,” said Edmonds. “‘Just paddle them and put them back in class’ they say.”

Edmonds said offenses range from talking in class, interrupting or pushing another student. He said students are paddled in private, away from other students and there is a certified teacher as a witness. The incident is also documented for parents to review.

“It may vary,” said Edmonds. “It may be one lick… maybe two… it would depend on the particular offense. Again, you’re not really trying to hurt the child, you’re trying to show that this is misbehavior and this is how we still punish.”

Almost all Jefferson County parents, WATE 6 On Your Side spoke with agreed with the school system’s property.

“I say if my child is misbehaving enough to where she would deserve one, I have no problems with it at all,” said Roger Lauderback, father of an elementary school student.

Other parents said they were okay with the practice of paddling, but would like to be notified when it happens.

“I would like to know if somebody’s going to be paddling my child,” said Terence Barlow, father of an elementary school student. “I at least want to know about it in case she comes home with marks on her butt.”

Edmonds said that while the school is not required to notify parents, they have notified them for all three cases this year. He would not show WATE 6 On Your Side the instrument school suse to punish children, but says it is a small one, usually a ping pong paddle.

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