Who’s Getting Spanked in N.C. Public Schools?

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A new report reveals an ugly truth about corporal punishment in North Carolina public schools: It isn’t fairly administered. Frankly, I consider the practice to be barbaric, so it’s no surprise to me that those who are dealing it out are discriminating.

According to the report, which contains data that school districts are now required to submit to the Department of Public Instruction, more than one in every five uses of corporal punishment in North Carolina was applied to a student with disabilities during the 2010-2011 school year. The report also shows that American Indian students, who account for less than 2 percent of the student population statewide, received more than one-third of all corporal punishment in North Carolina public schools, although most of that disparity was driven by one school district, Robeson County. In that county, American Indian students comprise 48 percent of the student enrollment but receive 81 percent of the corporal punishment. The report also shows that although males and females each make up about half of the student population across the state, male students received about 80 percent of the corporal punishment.The report’s findings were released Tuesday by Action for Children North Carolina, a nonprofit that conducts research and advocates for children in the state.

“These data confirm that corporal punishment is administered disproportionately by race, disability status, gender and age,” said Tom Vitaglione, a senior fellow with Action for Children North Carolina who authored the report. “While the data themselves are not proof of bias, they certainly beg for more study to be done. After all, we are talking about public employees hitting children.”

But there was some good news in the report: Corporal punishment is being used less in our public schools, Vitaglione said. Only 20 of the 115 local school districts now allow corporal punishment, and just 10 used it during the 2010-2011 school year. Eighty-seven percent of the corporal punishment was administered in just three local districts: Robeson, Columbus and McDowell.

“Based on research and experience, more and more local districts are rejecting the use of ineffective strategies like corporal punishment as an acceptable form of school discipline in favor of effective techniques, like the Positive Behavioral Support system favored by most educators,” said Vitaglione.  “The goal now should be to extend those effective strategies to all students in our public schools.”

North Carolina remains one of only 19 states that continue to allow corporal punishment in their public schools. Although North Carolina law allows local school boards to permit corporal punishment, under legislation passed in 2011, parents have the right to opt out of corporal punishment for their children in public schools. School districts must end a form to all parents at the beginning of the school year allowing parents to opt out. 

Call it corporal punishment or spanking, attempting to discipline children this way is cruel, and it doesn’t work. Spanking has been associated with associated with child abuse victimization, poor self-esteem, impaired parent-child relationships, and child and adult mental health and substance abuse.  Yet a 2011 survey by the University of North Carolina found that 30 percent of our state’s moms of children less than two years old say they had spanked their children in the previous year.

Are these moms angry when they hit their tots? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize that hitting someone happens when emotions rein over reason. Spanking is child abuse. Those who spank often use it to vent their own frustrations, spreading despair and fear. Positive reinforcement, on the other hand, motivates children to do the right thing by rewarding them for good deeds, and it generates self-esteem and goodwill.

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