Point of View

Spanking in schools tarnishes NC

February 3, 2013 

In his inaugural address, Gov. Pat McCrory started by extolling North Carolina’s accomplishments that have earned our state its reputation as a leader in the “New South.” His list of those accomplishments should make all of us feel proud.

He then noted that North Carolina’s image has been tarnished in recent years, and that our “brand” would need to be improved if we wanted to enhance our business, education and social environments.

On the same day The News & Observer reported on the inauguration, another article highlighted one of our characteristics that tarnishes our reputation nationally and internationally: North Carolina still allows public school students to receive corporal punishment, defined by statute as “the intentional infliction of physical pain upon the body of a student.”

Our reputation takes a hit because the United States is the only developed country in which corporal punishment is allowed, though 31 states prohibit the practice. Unfortunately, when national media such as Newsweek, Time and USA Today run episodic stories on corporal punishment, North Carolina is prominently listed among the 19 states that still allow the practice. Since the list includes the entire South (except Virginia), the assumption is that our state is still very much part of the “Old South.”

Much of this notoriety is unfair because the stories do not mention that corporal punishment is on the wane in our state, diminishing by about 80 percent in the past five years. Last school year, only 12 (of 115) local school districts administered corporal punishment, three of which have since banned the practice. This is largely because study after study indicates that corporal punishment is not effective, neither changing long-term behavior nor improving academic outcomes.

Indeed many studies show increases in aggression and a decline in academic achievement among students who receive corporal punishment.

On the other hand, it is helpful that the national media outlets do not report about the lack of statutory safeguards in the administration of corporal punishment in our state. In fact, school personnel who use the practice are given immunity unless hitting the child “results in injury to the child that requires medical attention beyond simple first aid.” (Gruesome, but it’s in the statutes.)

Furthermore, about 30 percent of the corporal punishment is administered to students with disabilities. These children have physical and emotional problems and may not even understand why they are being hit.

Corporal punishment will self-destruct in our state before long. In the interim, our students will be subject to an unsafe, ineffective educational practice. And the reason is that there has not been the political will to prohibit the practice statewide.

No professional organization or advocacy group, including the Local School Boards Association and the Association of School Administrators, recommends the use of corporal punishment. However, these two named groups actively fight any attempts to ban corporal punishment statewide, citing school discipline as a “local issue.”

This made sense when all local districts used the practice, but now that there are only nine, we have unmasked the fact that their reluctance is not about hitting children. It is about a power struggle between local entities and the state, and our children are paying the price.

Local control is a time-honored tradition that has served our state well. There are times, however, when the fact that we are North Carolinians should be more important than being residents of a county or municipality. When it comes to hitting children, many as young as age 5 and many with disabilities, there should be a statewide standard of protection.

All our children deserve protection, and our state’s tarnished image needs to be improved in any way possible. Let’s pray that the new administration will work to remove the blemish of corporal punishment in our public schools.

The governor has it right: We need to take every opportunity to improve North Carolina’s image. At its meeting this week, the State Board of Education has a chance to do just that. It will consider a resolution to recommend that corporal punishment be prohibited as a form of student discipline.

This would be just a first step, but it would send a message that North Carolina intends to retake its place as a leader of the “New South.”

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

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