Last year, two of North Carolina’s counties allowed schools to use corporal punishment — physical pain as a disciplinary measure — on students.
As of Aug. 14, that number was down to one county. At a Tuesday meeting of the Robeson County Board of Education, board members voted narrowly (6-5) to end the practice of corporal punishment, or spanking, as first reported by Scott Bigelow of The Robesonian.
More than 100 miles west is Graham County in the mountains of North Carolina, the only county continuing the practice of “intentional infliction of physical pain upon the body of a student as a disciplinary measure,” according to North Carolina state statute.
School corporal punishment is legal in 19 states, many of them in the south. Those states are: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.
Corporal punishment in North Carolina
In 2013, the North Carolina State Board of Education came out against spanking and paddling students and encouraged local school systems to end the punishments. But North Carolina law left it up to individual school systems to decide.
How a school strikes a student is not outlined in state law.
State statute includes guidelines and limitations on corporal punishment:
▪ Corporal punishment cannot be administered in a classroom with other students present;
▪ Only an agent of the state — a teacher, principal or assistant principal — can administer corporal punishment and must do so in the presence of someone else in those categories;
▪ The school must notify the student’s parent that corporal punishment has been administered and the person who administered the punishment must provide a written explanation of why, and name the witness who was present;
▪ The school must keep a record of each instance of corporal punishment;
▪ Excessive force, or force that causes injury to the student that requires medical attention beyond simple first aid, is prohibited;
▪ If a parent does not want a school to use physical pain to discipline their child, the parent must fill out a form at the beginning of the school year. If the form is not completed, the school is allowed to hit the student.
“The form shall advise the parent or guardian that the student may be subject to suspension, among other possible punishments, for offenses that would otherwise not require suspension if corporal punishment were available,” North Carolina law states.
Still an active form of punishment
Corporal punishment was not just a rule still on the books in Robeson and Graham counties.
Students were actively being spanked, paddled and otherwise struck as of last school year.
There were 75 uses of corporal punishment in North Carolina in 2016-17, according to the most recently available report from the Department of Public Instruction.
The state saw a 2.7 percent increase from the previous year in the number of students struck by a school employee.
Corporal punishment was used 41 times in Robeson County and 34 times in Graham County during the 2016-17 school year, state records show.
Of the 75 times schools used corporal punishment in 2016-17:
▪ 66 were male students and 9 were female students.
▪ Most students struck were Native American (41), followed by white students (30), and then black (2) and Hispanic students (2).
▪ Most students were in fourth grade, followed by 11th and 12th grade. But there were at least two incidents of corporal punishment at every grade level.
▪ 10 — more than 13 percent — were students with disabilities.
The leading causes of students being struck were: leaving/skipping school (24 students), insubordination (16) and “aggressive behavior” (11). Other causes included: disruptive behavior, disorderly conduct, disrespect of staff and “other.”
State law on corporal punishment does not define causes such as insubordination or disrespect.
The number of students punished corporally has fallen dramatically. In the 2008-09 school year, 679 students were physically punished and that number has continued to steadily decline statewide.
The American Psychological Association opposes corporal punishment in schools on the grounds that decades of research show children punished with physical violence learn to potentially use it against others and that it “instills hostility, rage and a sense of powerlessness without reducing undesirable behavior.”
Parents want to continue spanking
The number of students struck in Robeson County fell to 28 students in the 2017-18 school year, The Robesonian reported. All were Native American students at two elementary schools.
Members of one of the school’s parent-teacher organization spoke against repealing the ability to strike students.
“At a recent meeting, we polled parents,” Eric Freeman, president of the Prospect Elementary School PTO said at the board of education meeting on Tuesday, according to The Robesonian. “One hundred parents asked that the policy not be changed, and zero voted to stop spanking.”
Freeman did not say how many of the school’s parents were present at that meeting.
School board member Brenda Fairley-Ferebee said it is the school’s job to educate and a parent’s job to discipline, The Robesonian reported.
“If they do that, there would not be problems in school,” she said.
A ‘last resort’
Robeson County’s student handbook says that corporal punishment is a “last resort” and should only be employed “in cases where other means of securing cooperation from the student have failed.”
Students are to be afforded “minimal due process” in cases of corporal punishment, including confronting the student and allowing the student to verbally defend themselves when accused.
The school system also requires that a student be warned before they are struck.
Robeson County’s handbook says that students may only be struck “upon the buttocks.”
“Slapping or striking a child about the head or face is strictly forbidden, as is the vigorous shaking of a child by the shoulders,” the handbook says.