Growing Movement Would Ban Corporal Punishment In Schools
by Nick Beres
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – How would you feel about a teacher paddling your child in class? If you think it can't happen in Tennessee -- you're wrong. This is one of 19 states to allow paddling in schools.
Believe it or not, paddling used to be the norm in schools, but if you think wood paddles are a thing of the past, think again.
Some say it's good, old-fashioned discipline. Others call it child abuse, and now there's a federal lawsuit.
Corporal punishment is an ongoing controversy that has some parents and teachers on different sides of the fence. So, would you allow a teacher to paddle your child?
The law is on the books allowing it, but now there is a federal lawsuit involving a Cumberland County teacher challenging corporal punishment in Tennessee schools.
The debate over unruly kids and discipline is raging.
"Corporal punishment in Tennessee is still an option, legally an option," says Wendell Marlowe.
Marlowe is the principal at West Wilson Middle School in Wilson County. Many principals, like Marlowe, keep a paddle in their offices. Marlowe won't use his, but there are some who do.
It's been two years since he's spanked a student and Marlowe doubts he will ever do it again even if asked.
"Parents have come to me and said, ‘Mr. Marlow, if they don't have their homework in - paddle them.' Well, I'm not going to do that," says Marlow.
Tennessee law allows it, but Marlow is among a growing number of principals who believe paddling should be a thing of the past.
That's not to say it doesn't still happen.
There's an entire website dedicated to cellphone video of school paddlings from around the country, corpun.com.
"It's actually government sanctioned child abuse. It's legally child abuse," says Julie Worley, President for Tennesseans for Non-Violent School Discipline. "The federal government has prohibited corporal punishment in our prisons and yet they fail to enact a law to protect children in our schools."
Worley says paddling traumatizes students and can cost schools big money. She points to a federal lawsuit filed in October against Homestead Elementary in Cumberland County.
A now-former teacher, Vaughn Davis, was accused of paddling a student who suffered from health problems.
"This child was on the no paddle list, and the corporal punishment (was) administered in violation of their own policies," says Worley. "Mr. Davis took him outside and had him bend over a rock and paddled him three times."
The family is seeking half a million dollars in damages.
Worley sees more lawsuits coming since there are few guidelines for schools to follow. She says there's not even a standard paddle. It's a practice that could easily be abused or be taken too far.
Even so, Tennessee lawmakers seem unwilling to ban paddling. Clearly there are voters who still support it.
"I think we are too lax," says Albert Bell, who allowed his kids to be paddled and he'd do the same with his grandchildren. "These young children don't have any respect. You had it back then. It was whooped into you."
That was then. This is now. Law or no law, principals like Marlowe plan to hang up their paddles for good.
"Hitting a kid with a piece of wood is ridiculous," says Marlowe.
In Tennessee, individual school districts are allowed to determine their own policies with regard to corporal punishment. Some ban it while others allow it, usually with parental permission first.
If you're not sure about your district that's a question worth asking your child's principal.