Texas School District Approves Corporal Punishment 1

Corporal punishment has been on the decline as an acceptable form of classroom behavior control for nearly a half century. This is especially true in Europe, where such disciplinary action has been under fire with opponents seeking to outlaw it across the continent. While the United States has not been as restrictive in the use of corporal punishment as Europe has, it has  been widely curtailed, especially in schools. This seems to be changing, at least in one Texas school district that approved the use of paddling as a form of discipline earlier this week.

The Three Rivers Independent School District approved a measure that would allow school officials to use corporal punishment as a means of disciplining students starting this upcoming school year. Parents have the right to exclude their children from the practice, according to the policy, and administrators are not obligated to use corporal punishment to discipline a child, even if parents specifically request that the discipline be employed.

The policy reads, “The Campus Behavior Coordinator and/or the Principal are the only individuals allowed to administer this disciplinary management technique, based on their discretion, and the student will be given one paddling for his/her infractions.”

While the policy does not define the specifications of what constitutes corporal punishment, the Texas Classroom Teachers Association does provide a definition, explaining that it is the… “deliberate infliction of physical pain by hitting, paddling, spanking, slapping or any other physical force used as a means of discipline.”

Currently, 19 states allow paddling, spanking, or some other form of similar punishment to be used at schools. Texas has the largest numbers of cases where the punishment was employed, followed by Mississippi. The remaining 31 states and the District of Columbia bar its use.

A Changing Attitude Toward Corporal Punishment

For centuries, corporal punishment was used as a form of discipline in schools. That tide began to change in Europe, especially near the turn of the century, as laws were passed to bar the practice. The 1978 European Convention of Human Rights declared that “birching of a juvenile” was in opposition to the articles related to the protection of human rights. Seven years later, the United Nations agreed, declaring under Rule 17.3 that “Juveniles shall not be subject to corporal punishment.” In 1990, the U.N. added to their policy declaring that harsh punishment should not be used against children, “particularly corporal punishment.”

In 1996, the Committee Against Torture condemned this form of discipline and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights declared that corporal punishment denied juveniles their dignity. This culminated in a 2001 policy, instituted by the European Committee on Social Rights, which declared that corporal punishment was akin to violence against children and, as such, needed to be banned.

While Europe has sought to end the corporal punishment, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the right of parents and schools to employ the form of discipline. In the 1977 case Ingraham v. Wright, the Court ruled that corporal punishment did not violate the Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment, nor did it violate a child’s rights under the 14th amendment.

The most recent data related to its use dates back to the 2011-12 school year. In that year, schools used the form of discipline 167,000, with Texas and Mississippi combining to account for one-quarter of the total number of applications.