Florida School Board Reverses Ban on Paddling "Unruly" Elementary School Students

Corporal punishment is still alive and well in learning institutions across the country, and on Tuesday, the Marion County, Florida school board had a change of heart on the subject as it reversed the 3-year ban on school principals paddling unruly students.

While there are some stipulations to the practice that must be observed, some opponents of the recent decision believe it could be used unfairly on minority students, and others cited the drop in the percentage of students suspended during the ban. However this unfolds, the schools and the parents should be wary of the practice and its potential for abuse.

In order for a student to be paddled, the following points must be observed:

- The student must be in elementary school.

- Parents must give written permission once a year for the practice to be used on their child.

- At the time the punishment is applied, the parents must again give verbal permission.

- A student can only be paddled once a semester.

Even with these in mind, school board member Bobby James voiced his concerns about reinstating paddling.

"This is going to open up a whole can of worms," he said. James was also concerned that corporal punishment could end up being used disproportionately on minority students. Considering how poorly the state of Florida treats minority students already, this could be a valid concern.

Interestingly, the number of behavioral specialists in schools was increased following the 2010 ban in order to find the root of behavioral problems in schools. Does bringing back paddling mean these specialists couldn't figure it out?

That doesn't seem to be the case. Another change in the district after the ban was the creation of the Positive Alternative to School Suspension (PASS) program. PASS is an in-school suspension program where suspended students must come to school to serve their punishment away from friends and family. The number of students in this program has decreased almost 3% since paddling was banned.

Marion County also has a history rich with paddling, at least compared to the rest of the state. While Florida districts paddle about 122 students annually, Marion County paddled around 300 students per year in the last five years it allowed the practice. Whether this has to do with more parents being open to school principals punishing their children in this manner or if something else is afoot is unknown, but it is certainly interesting information.

The school board's unwavering enthusiasm for the practice may have contributed to the reinstatement as well. One school board member, Carol Ely, is a retired principal, and even before she was sworn into office after her election she was campaigning for paddling to return to Marion County elementary schools. Her proposition led to several more school board members to back her up, which caught James' attention when he blatantly disagreed, citing the decline in the need for punishment.

While we may never know why schools feel the need to punish children using violence — something that many parents do agree with, but only if they inflict it — it remains clear that programs like PASS and the increase in behavioral specialists did more for students than paddling ever did. Three years is not long enough for these programs to have a real effect on students, and it would be wiser for them to continue finding the root of students' issues rather than simply hitting those who misbehave and sending them on their way.

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Christine Salek

Christine is a writer and perpetual student living in Des Moines, Iowa. Her writing can also be found on Medium, the Gonzaga Bulletin, and ResearchGate.

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