VOL. 116 | NO. 7 | Thursday, January 10, 2002
An issue of spanking
Nashville bans paddling in schools, Memphis to follow?
By MARY DANDO
The Daily News
To spank or not to spank that is the question consuming Nashville educators this week.
Tuesday, the metro area school board voted unanimously to abolish corporal punishment in the system.
The board took the vote without any prior discussion of disciplinary options.
The vote followed a suggestion by metro schools director Pedro Garcia in August that the whole idea of corporal punishment should be reviewed. And recently a committee of nine principals and administrators recommended the elimination of spanking completely.
With an enrollment of 70,000 students the Nashville metro area school system in Davidson County is the second largest in the state.
The largest is Memphis City Schools with an enrollment of 117,000 students.
Both Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools still permit corporal punishment.
Members of the Memphis school board voted in 1998 to retain the policy first adopted in 1958. It was revised in 1963 and 1982.
The city school board voted 6-3 to reject a ban on corporal punishment and to retain it as a last resort.
The policy states corporal punishment is permissible in the Memphis City Schools "in cases meriting such action," but recommends alternative means of punishment should be tried first.
One of those voting against corporal punishment in 1998 was Dr. Barbara Prescott who said the only children who are scared by the threat of paddling are the good students.
"I also believe in our society today, we never really know whats going on in the minds of children. It is a wiser approach to not use physical force of any kind even if you think the type of punishment you are enacting is respectful and thats questionable.
"You never know when youre going to be dealing with a child who has something going on in his mind and who will retaliate," she said.
Some of the opposition to banning corporal punishment at that time came from the teachers who felt that they needed that alternative, Prescott said.
With three new members on the board since the 1998 vote, Prescott said the outcome might be different if a ban on paddling should be proposed again.
Prescott said she would still vote against corporal punishment.
"In many ways I think we need to be more disciplined in our schools than we are now, but I just dont believe that corporal punishment is the effective way to handle discipline," she said.
Prescott said city schools already have a number of alternative forms of discipline in place.
"We have many alternatives and at this point our policy continues to characterize corporal punishment as a punishment of last resort."
As with any other policy, it is only as good as the people who implement it, she said.
The city school boards current president Michael Hooks Jr. said his constituency would guide him but he thought he would continue to support the use of corporal punishment in city schools.
"I base my decisions on my constituency and overwhelmingly the instructors and the school administration say we need to keep corporal punishment. From that aspect, I support the people on the frontline," he said.
Hooks said he is still open to group decision-making and if Lora Jobe (who proposed the ban in 1998) wants to put the issue back on the agenda he would support that.
Jobe said she is delighted to hear Nashville banned corporal punishment.
"Im so proud of them," she said.
Jobe said the issue continues to be an emotionally wrenching and divisive one, and as the votes are still not there to support her, it is unlikely she will again propose a ban in the near future.
"Last time I was so incredibly disappointed in the things that were said, that I realized how many miles we have to go before we get there. We have so far to go in being compassionate and caring and being able to embrace research," she said.
Shelby County Schools with an enrollment of about 45,000 students has a similar corporal punishment policy to Memphis City Schools.
Mike Tebbe, director of communications for the county schools, has first-hand experience of dealing with discipline problems.
Tebbe, a former teacher and assistant principal, said since the policy was first adopted in 1966 with later revisions, the most recent being in August 2000, corporal punishment is part of a progressive discipline plan in county schools.
"The one thing I would emphasize is that it is part of a progressive discipline plan. I think two things are meritorious with this. It is part of a progressive discipline plan, and secondly it cannot be used for a first-time offense," he said.
As with the Memphis City Schools plan, if parents do not want corporal punishment to be used with their children all they have to do is to write a letter to the principal every year stating they dont want corporal punishment, he said.
"Again, its an option. Its up to the discretion of the school and of the administrator, and we probably have some schools that dont use corporal punishment, others that do. Again, I think the big key to note that it is a progressive discipline plan that cant be used for a first-time offense," Tebbe said.
Because administrators can choose not to use corporal punishment or parents can express their wishes with regard to its use on their children, the policy has been flexible enough not to become an issue at school board meetings and remains on the books.