Corporal Punishment in Schools Must End

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There are many concerns facing my generation of young Americans in this century. Will we be able to find and acquire a great education that sets us up for a prosperous future of economic security? Will those educational environments be safe environments for all? My name is Kai Forcey-Rodriguez. I am 23 years old and a senior Italian Studies Major and a Special Education Teaching Minor with two years of experience teaching English as a Second Language in Italy, Russian, and Indonesia. Corporal punishment in schools has been a concern of mine as I work hard to make a safe learning environment for all of my students. Presidential candidates for 2020 have spoken about supporting the creation of mental health counseling services to help with trauma and stress in schools. One of many issues these candidates and many politicians have not mentioned or in general is not often spoken about is corporal punishment in schools. Corporal punishment is a relic of our educational system’s distant past, but unfortunately, it still exists. Even though I have had the privilege of growing up in a wealthy area of New Hampshire where,  similar to other NH school districts condemn corporal punishment but nevertheless, this issue is a personal one for the following four reasons. 

First, corporal punishment in schools violates federal law. A school may argue that in accordance with In Loco Parentis, which means that while students are in an institution (ie: school, university, summer camp, etc…) they have temporary guardianship and responsibility of the children or students, that they are doing their duty to protect the environment and diminish disruptions from energetic students by using force to deter them. If anything that does not work. I have had many energetic students that I have had success with teaching because when I noticed such behavior I adapted my method to accommodate their energy. To quote Billy Joel, “You’re only human. You’re supposed to make mistakes.” Regardless of the argument, a school using force entailed as corporal punishment is child abuse and should be investigated as such by the authorities because it violates the Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (related to students with learning disabilities and a predecessor law to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Equality Act of 1973), and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which protects people from discrimination and ending segregation, studies show that the kids fallen victim to this antiquated disciplinary tactic are LGBTQIAP+, people of color, and those with learning or physical disabilities (I prefer the term, learning or physical differences). 

The statistics of corporal punishment occurrences vary from state to state because of the US Supreme Court opinion in Ingraham v. Wright of 1977 ruling in favor of states rights and ignoring the school’s blatant and evident violation of Ingraham’s Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. As a result of this Supreme Court decision, the continuation of this method was left to the states to decide. Therefore, states have it legalized in some shape or form. A lot of states like North Carolina have corporal punishment legal while there have no reports of its use by school districts or districts like those in New Hampshire have just refused to use it. Only in New Jersey and Iowa is it abolished for public and private schools. The rule in most of the states like Arkansas, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee is that corporal punishment is legal as long as a “reasonable level of force” is used. That begs the questions, what is considered reasonable? According to a report from 2016 called, Corporal Punishment in U.S. Public Schools: Prevalence, Disparities in Use, and Status in State and Federal Policy, “over 160,000 children in these states are subject to corporal punishment in schools each year. Given that the use of school corporal punishment is heavily concentrated in Southern states, and that the federal government has not included corporal punishment in its recent initiatives about improving school discipline, public knowledge of this issue is limited”(Gershoff, Elizabeth T, and Sarah A Font. “Corporal Punishment in U.S. Public Schools: Prevalence, Disparities in Use, and Status in State and Federal Policy.”). This is why, we the people, must rise up and tell those we elect that we care about this issue so they can do something about it.

Second, students with disabilities are targeted in states with corporal punishment in schools. This aspect is deeply personal for me because I have grown up struggling with the social impact due to complications of having ADD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Visual-Spatial Disorder, Fine Motor Disorder, and Non-Verbal Learning Disorder (on the Autistic Spectrum close to the beginning of it) for my entire life. If I lived in a state like Tennessee, which according to the state’s laws permits physical punishment in schools, although saying it must be done in a "reasonable manner," I could be paddled for not finishing my homework on time.  Imagine that for a moment. How is that similar from what we fought a civil war about in the 1860s to fix. Furthermore, according to the ACLU’s report called, “Impairing Education: Corporal Punishment of Students with Disabilities in US Public Schools”, in 2009, “Landon K., a six-year-old boy with autism, was in first grade at his Mississippi elementary school when his assistant principal, "a big, 300-lb man, picked up an inch thick paddle and paddled him [on the buttocks]." His grandmother, Jacquelyn K., reported, "my child just lost it ... he was screaming and hollering ... it just devastated him." Jacquelyn knew that paddling was harmful to children with autism: "I had already signed a form saying they couldn't paddle. I sent that form every year ... When a child with autism has something like that happen, they don't forget it. It's always fresh in their minds" (ACLU. "American Civil Liberties Union." American Civil Liberties Union).  According to that same report, Landon was traumatized and will be for the rest of his life all because he was hit by his principal for a matter he could not control. A report from a joint effort from the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, “at least 41,972 students with disabilities were subjected to corporal punishment in US schools during that year”(US: Students With Disabilities Face Corporal Punishment at Higher Rates). Giving corporal punishment to non-disabled students is one thing, but using physical punishment to force a behavior change on vulnerable people is downright wrong and inhumane. It outrages me that this still happens in the 21st century and I feel for those suffering from corporal punishment. These are people who deserve justice. As laborers in the manufacturing and auto industry in Ohio and other Midwestern states, we are among the forgotten people by Washington D.C. 

Third, there should be a law banning corporal punishment in schools because as a Social studies teacher at my old high school, Oyster River High School, said, “As a teacher, who is supposed to take on the diplomatic role, it is not proper for an adult in authority to result to violence.” What does it teach the students? It teaches them that violent acts are tolerated in school when conducted a young age. People should come to realize that as shown in the court case I mentioned earlier, that the conduct from the school towards Ingraham was cruel and unusual punishment. A school is a federal building and controlled by the US government and it has a responsibility to step in when unlawful or disgraceful acts are being conducted towards children and older students under Article VI Sections I and II and also under the authority of the US Dept. of Education to enforce the law of the land. By creating a law banning corporal punishment in schools, it is important to put teeth in it by making the penalties similar to child abuse toward minors charges is a way to start ending such disciplinary action in academic areas. Also according to “A Violent Education” by Human Rights Watch, from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment 8, para. 11, “any force with intent to punish is impermissible, meaning that the use of corporal punishment in public schools in the United States violates international human rights law”(Human Rights Watch. "III.Corporal Punishment in US Public Schools." A Violent Education.). 

Fourth, as a teacher, I work hard to raise the motivation of students wanting to learn English and I embody the mantra of not ridiculing the student when they get something wrong or giving a severe punishment if they don't follow the rules or complete assignments. I let my students' energy fill the classroom but not overwhelm it. This is why teachers consistently need to be updated on modern teaching practices. Students come from all different backgrounds, family dynamics, and face challenges that are invisible so school is a haven for so many and teachers must enforce that philosophy of school being a safe sanctuary. Violence breaks that bond making learning difficult. Let's change that together. Personally, any teacher who physically harms a child for being disruptive in class should not be an instructor at all. Yes, teaching is a stressful job but it never warrants violence. I work hard to embody my high school’s mission statement, “to provide a nurturing community where the uniqueness of each member is valued. In this spirit, we are committed to becoming educated, ethical, responsible citizens who are committed to contributing positively toward the betterment of our society and world,” in order to pay homage to what did for me when I was a teenager. The US government should promote that philosophy too.

In conclusion, schools that punish their students through violence only promotes more violence. As I have stated before, schools are the key to helping students succeed by keeping a safe environment. Being paddled for misbehaving kids do the opposite: take away their safety. According to the ACLU, “studies show that beatings can damage the trust between educator and student, corrode the educational environment, and leave the student unable to learn effectively, making it more likely that she will drop out of school”(ACLU. "American Civil Liberties Union." American Civil Liberties Union). Parents and teachers consciously or subconsciously want their kids or students to succeed in life. Corporal Punishment deprives children of that success in life. Resentment towards adults for years of being beaten in school is the worst and last emotion any child or minor should be forced to feel.

Therefore, in the name of humanity and civil rights, I hope I can count on you to sign this petition to commit to ending corporal punishment in schools in the United States and pressure lawmakers both local, state, and Federal to take measures to protect and make schools safe havens for all children regardless of who they are or how they look. This is not an old issue, but it is an important one that affects so many people similar to myself growing up as a kid with special needs. Please commit to join me in ending violence in schools based on racism, sexism, identity differences, and physical/learning differences by informing those unaware. This is a team effort because states need to pressure other states to follow New Jersey and Iowa's lead in fully abolishing corporal punishment once and for all. 


Thank you for your time,

Kai Forcey-Rodriguez

 

Work Cited

Gershoff, Elizabeth T, and Sarah A Font. “Corporal Punishment in U.S. Public Schools: Prevalence, Disparities in Use, and Status in State and Federal Policy.” Social policy report vol. 30 (2016): 1.

De NIES via Good Morning America, YUNJI. "Should Your Child Be Spanked at School? In 19 States, It's Legal." ABC News. ABC News Network, 16 Mar. 2012. Web. 12 Jan. 2014. 

Human Rights Watch. "III.Corporal Punishment in US Public Schools." A Violent Education. Human Rights Watch, 20 Aug. 2008. Web. 22 Jan. 2014. 

ACLU. "American Civil Liberties Union." American Civil Liberties Union. ACLU, 2009. Web. 23 Jan. 2014. 

"US: Students With Disabilities Face Corporal Punishment at Higher Rates | Human Rights Watch." US: Students With Disabilities Face Corporal Punishment at Higher Rates | Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch, 10 Aug. 2009. Web. 23 Jan. 2014.