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A Missouri School District Is Bringing Back Paddling to Punish Students
Parents need to opt in saying it’s OK for their children to be hit; disciplinary measure has long been opposed by medical professionals
The Cassville school district in southwest Missouri has said it is bringing back corporal punishment.
By Joseph Pisani, WSJ
Aug. 28, 2022 7:00 am ET
A school district in a small town in southwest Missouri told parents it will start swatting children with paddles, a punishment that remains legal in the state and 18 others.
The Cassville school district said students would only be spanked if parents sign a permission form saying it is OK for their children to be hit. If they change their mind, parents can write another letter opting out. Cassville is about 15 miles north of the Arkansas border and has a population of around 3,200.
Khristina Harkey, whose son is in first grade at a Cassville school, said she received notice of the new spanking policy last week when she went to drop off school supplies and received a bunch of paperwork.
One of the letters said corporal punishment will return to Cassville for the 2022-2023 school year. “I was like, ‘What the hell is corporal punishment?,’” said Ms. Harkey, 39.
She found the answer inside a school district handbook: a child would be spanked on the butt with a paddle.
Ms. Harkey said she won’t allow her son, who has autism, to be paddled.
Parents in the Cassville school district received notice that corporal punishment would return for the 2022-2023 school year.
The school will spank a child “when other means of discipline have failed,” said a letter viewed by The Wall Street Journal that was signed by Merlyn Johnson, the Cassville school superintendent.
The letter didn’t say when the Cassville school district last allowed spanking. The Missouri School Boards’ Association said it didn’t keep track of that information.
Mr. Johnson declined to comment on the spanking policy or why the district chose to reinstate it. “At this time we will focus on educating our students,” he said in an email.
A memo to parents said spankings wouldn’t happen in front of other children and that it would be done by two workers: one who would do the spanking and the other who would serve as a witness. “Striking a student on the head or face is not permitted,” the memo said.
Elizabeth Gershoff, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin who has researched corporal punishment, said some schools turn to hitting because they are desperate to manage children. But she said hitting doesn’t work, and studies have found it causes more issues for the child.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association have long opposed corporal punishment and have called for it to be banned.
Children are typically hit with a wooden paddle that is 2 feet long, 3 inches wide and ½ an inch thick, Ms. Gershoff said. Some have holes drilled into them to make it easier for the adult to swing it, yet the holes can cause welts on the child’s rear, she said.
More than 69,000 children were physically punished during the 2017-2018 school year, the most recent year estimates are available from the Education Department. In the previous school year, more than 92,000 children were punished that way.
Boys, Black children and kids with disabilities are more likely to be spanked at school than their classmates, according to a 2016 study Ms. Gershoff worked on.
Some states, including Louisiana and Mississippi, have since banned schools from hitting children with disabilities. Last year, a bill was introduced in the Senate that would have banned corporal punishment nationwide, but it never became law.
Harley Kramp, who has three children in Cassville schools, said he and his ex-wife agreed to have their children spanked if they misbehave.
“I had no issue with it,” said the 34-year-old, who works at a chicken plant. He said children who are bullying others or causing other issues in the classroom should be spanked. “Everyone babies them like they’re going to break,” Mr. Kramp said.
Write to Joseph Pisani at email@example.com