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Spank your kids? Guilty of criminal assault.

by Elizabeth Greenaway Read Profile arrow_right_alt

Education Secretary John B. King Jr. is making a final push to end corporal punishment for students, which is still legal in 22 states. Yesterday, he released a letter asking governors and school leaders to end the practice of student paddling, noting that it would be considered “criminal assault or battery” against an adult.

Wondering if your state is on the list? The 22 states are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.

Fatima Goss Graves of the Women’s Law Center spoke out in support of the letter:

“Corporal punishment of adults has been banned in prisons and in military training facilities, and it’s time we do the same for our nation’s schoolchildren.”

Yes, you read that correctly – King believes disciplinary paddling is equivalent to criminal assault and battery and this woman is legitimately comparing the corporal punishment of adults in prison to paddling students who misbehave.

Corporal punishment probably brings to mind public whippings and hangings – which is historically accurate. The main context of the term is punishment for committing a crime. But it is also used by some (liberals) to describe discipline in schools. The definition of the term is “physical punishment (as opposed to a monetary punishment); any kind of punishment inflicted on the body.”

I think the fact that the definition specifically mentions monetary punishment shows it was intended to describe punishment for committing a crime, but I’m not a legal scholar.

So what is the current state of affairs in these 22 states where paddling is legal? If a student breaks a school rule, he or she may be spanked with a paddle or a ruler across his or her hands. The idea is that the negative reinforcement for the behavior will deter the student from repeating the behavior. And it’s not a free for all. Believe it or not, states have policies in place to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand. In North Carolina, their policies state another school official needs to be present, it must be reported and it can’t be used if parents have stated in writing, among other things.

King also noted more black and disabled students are spanked. (Does this sound familiar? #BlackLivesMatter)

To be fair, I can’t speak to the racial breakdown of students who are spanked – or the justification of their spankings, but I can speak to my own (gasp!). I’m a Caucasian, heterosexual, Christian, politically conservative, left-handed female (what classifications am I missing?) and yes, I was “criminally assaulted” by my parents as a child. (Imagine the look on my mother’s face when I tell her that over Thanksgiving Dinner.) I’m sure you or someone you know parented like my parents did – you know, back in the day when you could take photos and home videos of your kids playing in the bathtub without fear of child pornography charges.

When I did something I wasn’t supposed to do as a child, I got spanked – and I didn’t like it. Believe it or not, I grew up to be a responsible rule-following citizen of the world and I don’t have any major behavior or anger issues. To be honest, I probably could’ve benefited from spanking a few times as a rebellious teenager.

Now – a little bit of corporal punishment legal background for the history buffs:

Throughout history there have been several cases regarding corporal punishment in schools. Most notably, the U.S. Supreme Court case Ingraham v. Wright in the late 1970s. Parents of students in a junior high school brought suit against the school district, claiming that corporal punishment in public schools was “cruel and unusual punishment” and therefore in violation of the Eighth Amendment. They also claimed that corporal punishment couldn’t be administered without due process, according to the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Court’s verdict? The Eighth Amendment was designed to protect people who were convicted of crimes, not students who were paddled for discipline. The conclusion was that teachers could use “reasonable but not excessive” corporal punishment for discipline. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit went even further, saying it would only violate a student’s right to due process if the discipline caused severe injury and was done to that extent on purpose.

That seems sufficient to me. Who wants severe injury for discipline? I don’t think anyone does.

I should probably explicitly state (for the liberals) that this article is not meant to minimize the true cases of child assault, battery or abuse that exist. But to me, being paddled for misbehaving just isn’t one of them.

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