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Corporal punishment in schools

By Jeff Terrill

Fort Wayne Reader


A few days ago, I read an article about school paddling in the USA Today. The article’s bi-line mentioned that 19 states still allowed corporal punishment in schools. That number surprised me. I didn’t know kids were still getting paddled in schools. I kept reading. I wanted to see which states still allowed what I thought was an outdated and outlawed practice. I used to think corporal punishment was something that occurred in the military. The phrase never really seemed to make sense. I grew up in Indiana. I never had to worry about getting paddled in school. Not because I didn’t deserve it, but because that no longer occurred in Indiana, right?

Wrong. Indiana is one of the 19 states that allows school personnel to physically discipline students. Over the years, I’ve heard people mention that they wished teachers would still paddle students. Some suggest that paddling keeps kids accountable and compliant. Proponents of corporal punishment in schools believe that it maintains order in the classroom. Critics believe doing so condones violence and that it’s cruel and demoralizing for children.

Indiana Code 35-41-3-1 provides that a person is justified in engaging in certain types of conduct otherwise prohibited as long as that person has the legal authority to do so. Indiana Code 20-33-8-8(b) provides, in part, that school personnel “stand in the relation of parents to the students” and that they have the right to take “any disciplinary action necessary to promote student conduct.” The law also provides school personnel with qualified immunity if the disciplinary action “is taken in good faith and is reasonable.”

There you have it. Teachers and administrators in Indiana can physically discipline a rule-breaking youngster as long as it is done in good faith and within reason. So, if little Jimmy talks back to his teacher, is it reasonable for a teacher to tape the child’s mouth shut? Can the teacher in good faith strike that child in an effort to restore order to the classroom? Is it legal for an administrator to spank a student who is caught running in the hallway?

I wouldn’t recommend any of that. Even though the public appears to be divided over whether kids should be struck by teachers at school, I was at least relieved to learn that Indiana has a very low rate of such physical incidents. According to a Department of Education report and the website www.stophitting.com, 577 Indiana kids were struck by adults at school during the 2006-2007 school year. Compared to the nearly 50,000 Texas students struck during that same time period, it doesn’t appear to be a popular practice in Indiana. That same report found that over 223,000 students nationwide received corporal punishment over that same year.

Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean that a school corporation permits corporal punishment. It appears many Indiana school districts have policies that prohibit the practice. In case you are thinking that students are no longer held accountable, you are mistaken. If you are feeling sorry for hardworking teachers who are left powerless against a defiant child, you shouldn’t. The paddle has been replaced with suspensions, expulsions, police officers and jail cells. Schools used to correct bad behavior. Now, some just make the problem go away by removing the student. Many kids simply get a quick transport over to the juvenile detention center. Who needs a paddle when a uniformed police officer is on duty inside the school?


Jeff Terrill is a partner/shareholder with the law firm of Arnold Terrill Anzini, P.C. Mr. Terrill represents clients accused of crimes throughout northeast Indiana. You can contact Mr. Terrill with any questions or comments at his office at 260.420.7777 or via email at jterrill@fortwaynedefense.com. Learn more about his firm at www.fortwaynedefense.com. _This article expressed opinions and observations of the author, is not intended as legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader. Please consult a qualified attorney with any legal questions or issues you might have. Thank you.

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