Giving parents a say in corporal punishment

June 20, 2009 

— North Carolina remains one of the few places where a student can be beaten with a paddle by school personnel without parental permission. Those personnel have statutory immunity if they inadvertently injure a student during such beatings.

Last month the state House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to affirm the rights of parents to participate in the school discipline process. Under House Bill 442, parents would be given an opportunity to say that their children cannot be beaten at school and that other forms of discipline should be used.

On Wednesday, the Senate will vote on HB 442. Unbelievably, the vote is expected to be very close, and there is a good chance that our senators will deny parents the right to protect their children from being beaten by school personnel.

Some senators express what they term "fond memories" of being physically punished at school, while others feel that school discipline should be the sole province of school administrators with no room for parental involvement.

It should be made clear that this bill is not about corporal punishment; it is about parental involvement. In fact, 60 of the state's 115 local school boards have banned corporal punishment. And at least another dozen already use parental permission procedures that are included in the bill. The bill simply seeks to extend these parental permission procedures statewide.

Students cannot participate in sports or band without parental consent. They cannot go on school field trips without parental consent. They cannot receive so much as a Tylenol without parental consent. Yet they can be beaten without parental consent. This is irony, if not tyranny.

It should also be made clear that no groups object to the bill. In fact, the N.C. Association of Educators (representing teachers) and the N.C. Parent-Teachers Association strongly support the bill. The NAACP, the N.C. Pediatric Society and a host of other professional and advocacy organizations are in strong support as well.

In a democratic society, we expect our legislators to represent the wishes of their constituencies. So if teachers support the bill, if parents support the bill, if virtually all child-serving agencies support the bill, and if state and local school boards have reviewed the bill and do not object, who do our senators think they are representing by even considering a vote against the bill?

If HB 442 does not pass, somewhere in North Carolina next September a 45-pound first-grade girl could be beaten with a paddle by a 200-pound male school administrator without parental consent. It is time to take North Carolina's name off the list of places where this can happen. Please contact your state senator as soon as possible and ask that she/he support HB 442.

Tom Vitaglione is senior fellow at Action for Children North Carolina.

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