RALEIGH — School systems across the state gradually are dropping the use of spanking and paddling. The State Board of Education is encouraging the remaining ones to stop, too.
The board voted at its meeting Thursday to oppose the use of corporal punishment in all North Carolina schools.
The board has no authority to ban the practice, still used by nine of the 115 school districts across the state, according to Action for Children North Carolina, a child advocacy group. State law leaves it up to each district to decide whether to allow teachers and principals to inflict physical pain to enforce discipline.
Action for Children has been working with school districts and the legislature to eliminate the practice. North Carolina is one of 19 states nationwide that still allow educators to spank schoolchildren.
“We understand that corporal punishment has a place – hopefully not a very big place – in a loving home,” said Tom Vitaglione, senior fellow at Action for Children. “But giving someone outside the home authority to administer that kind of punishment is troublesome.”
In recent years, Action for Children and a coalition of more than a dozen other advocacy groups have persuaded the legislature to require school systems to report their use of corporal punishment, the reasons for its use, and details about the students who received the punishment, including whether they were students with disabilities or were entitled to receive special education services. Also, parents can now opt out of the use of corporal punishment on their children by returning a form to schools where such punishment is used.
Native American students and students with disabilities are disproportionately likely to be physically punished in North Carolina, Vitaglione said. In the 2011-12 school year, Robeson County, in southeastern North Carolina, spanked or paddled the most frequently, with 267 incidents. The next highest was Graham County, in western North Carolina, with 43 incidents.
Some Robeson County school principals do not allow corporal punishment, said Tasha Oxendine, spokeswoman for the schools.
Dwayne Smith, a member of the Robeson Board of Education and chairman of its policy committee, said the schools that do use it find it to be an effective tool, “if you use it in the right way.”
Asked how he measures its success, Smith said, “I know once it’s been used on a child, very seldom does that child come back” and have to be paddled again.
He could not say how many students have been physically punished more than once.
So far this year, Robeson County educators have spanked or paddled 46 students, Oxendine said.
Robeson is one of the poorest counties in North Carolina. It has 42 schools with about 24,000 students. In 2011-2012, students in the school system performed below state averages on all end-of-grade tests, from 3rd through 8th grades.
More than 38 percent of Robeson County’s residents are Native American.
Forest voted against
The state board’s vote on the resolution opposing spanking was 10-1, with only Lt. Gov. Dan Forest voting no. Later Thursday, Forest said he felt the decision should remain in the hands of local leaders.
“The General Assembly has already given the decision-making authority over corporal punishment to the local education boards, where it belongs, so today’s resolution was pointless and politically motivated so I voted against it,” Forest said in a statement.
State law specifies that where it’s allowed, corporal punishment cannot be administered in a classroom with other students present. It can only be done by a teacher, principal or assistant principal and only in the presence of another teacher, principal or assistant principal.
Those witnessing the punishment must be told, in the presence of the student, why the student is being punished. The student’s parent must be notified of the punishment and the reason for it.
“In no event shall excessive force be used,” the law says. “Excessive force includes force that results in injury to the child that requires medical attention beyond simple first aid.”
In addition to Robeson and Graham, other counties that allow corporal punishment are Bladen, Caswell, McDowell, Macon, Madison, Onslow and Swain. Three other counties – Burke, Columbus and Duplin – have stopped spanking in the past year.
Advocates of corporal punishment say it must not be done in anger or used as a way to lash out at children, that it must be a last resort and that it must be used in a way that the child perceives it as being out of concern for their behavior and welfare.
Opponents of corporal punishment say it creates more problems than it solves and that it should not be used on children of any age. They cite studies linking it to anxiety disorders among children, and a tendency among older children who are spanked or paddled to resort to physical aggression, substance abuse, crime and violence.
Vitaglione, of Action for Children, said most states that still allow corporal punishment in schools are in the South.
“It doesn’t help our image,” Vitaglione said. “It looks like we’re these awful people living in the past.”