School Spankings: Minorities Get More

AP, August 20, 2008

Paddlings, swats, licks. A quarter of a million schoolchildren got them in 2007—and black children, American Indians and kids with disabilities got a disproportionate share of the punishment, according to a study by a human rights group.

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In its study, which was being released Wednesday, the group Human Rights Watch used Education Department data to show that, while paddling has been declining, racial disparity persists. Researchers also interviewed students, parents and school personnel in Texas and Mississippi, states that account for 40 percent of kids who were paddled in the 2007 school year.

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Legal immunity

Widespread paddling can make it unlikely that forms will be checked. A teacher interviewed by Human Rights Watch, Tiffany Bartlett, said that in her Austin, Texas, school, the policy was to lock the classroom doors when the bell rang, leaving stragglers to be paddled by an administrator patrolling the hallways.

And even if schools make a mistake, they are unlikely to face lawsuits. In places where corporal punishment is allowed, teachers and principals generally have legal immunity from assault laws, the study said.

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A majority of states have outlawed it, but corporal punishment remains widespread across the South. Behind Texas and Mississippi were Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Florida and Missouri.

Facing the paddle

African American students are more than twice as likely to be paddled. The disparity persists even in places with large black populations, the study found. Similarly, Native Americans were more than twice as likely to be paddled, the study found.

The study also found:

# In states where paddling is most common, black girls were paddled more than twice as often as white girls.

# Boys are three times as likely to be paddled as girls.

# Special education kids were more likely to be paddled.

More than 100 countries worldwide have banned paddling in schools, including all of Europe, Farmer said. “International human rights law puts a pretty strong prohibition on corporal punishment,” she said.

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It’s not an easy choice. In many schools, kids can avoid a paddling if they accept suspension or detention, or for younger kids, if they skip recess. But often, a child opts for the short-term sting of the paddle.

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[Editor’s Note: Human Rights Watch’s report “A Violent Education

Corporal Punishment of Children in US Public Schools” can be read on-line or downloaded here.]

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