HEPHZIBAH, Ga. — To begin the new school year, a Georgia public charter school sent consent forms home to parents informing them of a new corporal punishment policy.
WRDW reported Friday that the superintendent of the Georgia School for Innovation and the Classics says a third of the 100 “consent to paddle forms” that have been returned have granted permission to the school.
“A parent can either give consent for us to use that as a disciplinary measure or they can deny consent,” Jody Boulineau, superintendent of the Hephzibah, Georgia-based school, told WRDW. “There’s no obligation. It’s not required.”
He added that the school received an uneven response from parents. “I’ve heard, ‘Great, it’s about time. We’re so glad that this is happening again, they should’ve never taken it out of schools.’ All the way to ‘Oh my goodness I can’t believe you are doing that’,” said Boulineau.
Georgia School for Innovation and the Classics, which first opened its door to students three years ago, serves kindergarten through sixth-grade students, though it plans to expand into the upper grades over time. All Georgia resident students are eligible to attend and 694 students were enrolled as of the state’s most recent enrollment count in March 2018.
‘Serious, repetitive offenses’
The new policy was approved by the board of directors in June, according to Julie Hawkins, principal of Georgia School for Innovation and the Classics.
“It is a choice made by the parent as one option among many in the discipline policy, and is reserved for serious, repetitive offenses,” said Hawkins, who emphasized, “Again, the decision would be made by the parent.”
The form records a parent’s consent allowing administrators to hit their children with a wooden paddle and reads: “A student will be taken into an office behind closed doors. The student will place their hands on their knees or piece of furniture and will be struck on the buttocks with a paddle.” No more than three licks should be given the fully clothed child, according to the form.
Though parents may agree to the paddling of their children, they will be contacted before it happens. The school will use a “three strike policy” so the paddling doesn’t happen on the first or second offense, according to the new guidelines put forth by the school.
The reason for the change in policy is not a matter of school-wide discipline problems, Hawkins said in an email. “The ability to control the students is not a factor in our school,” she said. “We have an average of 20 students per class, and we have very high expectations for behavior. We work with the students and parents to maintain a learning environment with very few disruptions.”
Thirty-one states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have abolished corporal punishment in public schools, according to World Corporal Punishment Research, an independent, nonprofit website.
This form of disciplining students is still permitted in 19 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.
Exact laws vary from state to state, though in most places where corporal punishment is allowed, the use is negligible, according to the nonprofit’s website. Two states, North Carolina and Texas, give parents the right to exempt their children from its use.
The Department of Education estimates 106,000 students were paddled in public schools during the 2013-14 school year, a decline of 50,000 over two years previously.
Paddling children in private schools is lawful in all but two states, Iowa and New Jersey, according to the nonprofit. Punishment in these institutions is not included in the federal statistics.
In Georgia, a preliminary search of the Georgia Department of Education database indicates that 243 — both charter and traditional schools — of the state’s more than 2,200 total schools administered corporal punishment in 2017, according to Lauren Holcomb, a spokeswoman for Georgia’s State Charter School Commission. The commission “does not play a role in” which discipline procedures are chosen by individual schools “outside of ensuring a school’s discipline policy complies with the law,” Holcomb said in an email.
Deb Olufs, an educational specialist in the Department of Behavioral Medicine of Gundersen Health System in Wisconsin, said, “Corporal punishment can keep order in a classroom, but it comes at an enormous cost — because the student becomes afraid of the teacher. And this environment we want of learning and engaging in school isn’t created by that. The student is now afraid of the teacher and will go to many lengths and will avoid the teacher.”
“The last thing I want is for a child to equate school with a place where he or she can be hurt,” said Olufs, who said a school “should be a place of safety and enjoyment and learning.”
“There’s no difference to me between a teacher bullying a child and another student bullying a child,” said Olufs. “It should not be allowed.” Good teachers can find alternative ways to punish children who present disciplinary problems, she said.
Teachers sometimes enlist a student who is acting out into being a helper as a way to develop a closer relationship, said Olufs. Often, students who struggle with their lessons pose problems, so a teacher might give those students more of a leadership position or another way to shine. Separation sometimes works — sending a child to a place where they can be alone for a few minutes. The classroom rules should be posted and stated in very clear and positive terms. “A well-run classroom is a work of art,” Olufs said.
If parents suspect corporal punishment has been used on their child without their consent, they should immediately report it to the school social worker and the school principal, said Olufs.
At the Georgia School for Innovation and the Classics, only children of consenting parents who have been notified in advance will receive their three licks, after two previous warnings. Because of this, Boulineau said he believes the new punitive policy will likely not be used often. “Sometimes it’s just kind of the threat of it being there becomes a deterrent in itself,” the superintendent said. “It’s just one more tool that we have in our disciplinary toolbox that we can use.”