Monday, January 5, 2009

PA: Corporal punishment still allowed under out-of-date Easton Area School District policy

NOTE: This byline is seriously misleading. Corporal punishment has been banned in PA, however Easton Area School District's Policy is out of compliance with state law, meaning corporal punishment is forbidden to be used since state laws trump any district policy. The problem with the district's policy being out of compliance is that staff may believe they are permitted to use corporal punishment, when they are not. And, as the article suggests, this leaves the district vulnerable to (sure to be expensive) lawsuits.

Monday, January 05, 2009
The Express-Times

EASTON | At least on paper, corporal punishment is allowed in the Easton Area School District. [Note: This sentence is completely false for the reasons outlined above.]

School district policy currently allows a building principal or designee to physically punish a student for an offense if other means of immediate discipline have failed.

But corporal punishment in public schools was banned by the state more than three years ago, and the Easton Area policy was not changed accordingly, school officials said.

"The policy needs to be updated to conform with law," Superintendent Susan McGinley said in an e-mailed response to an Express-Times inquiry.

McGinley said corporal punishment is not practiced in the district.

"I started in the district in 1979 and to my knowledge, I am not aware of any teacher or administrator who has ever used corporal punishment," she said.

Alan McFall, the school district solicitor, said the district will recommend the school board's policy committee revise the student discipline policy, which was adopted in 2007.

"The policy provision authorizing corporal punishment for disciplinary purposes, unless parents object, is contrary to and is prohibited by the board of education regulations set forth in" state law, McFall said.

Jordan Riak, executive director of the California-based Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education, said even if a district does not practice corporal punishment, it is important its policy be up to date so teachers and the community know it is not tolerated.

"The school district is remiss for not informing their employees of what the current law is," said Riak, who helped draft the 1985 legislation banning corporal punishment in California. "To have it in their published material can make it seem that they would condone that, and that they're still doing it."

Leah Harris, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said if a school district policy does not conform to state law, the district is vulnerable to lawsuits from any member of the community.

Corporal punishment was previously permitted in the state as long as "reasonable force" was administered and the student was not punished in such a way to cause bodily injury, Harris said.

The practice was banned in Pennsylvania schools in 2005, although teachers and school authorities are still allowed to use reasonable force under such circumstances as breaking up a fight, taking weapons from a student, self-defense and protection of property.

All other Northampton County school districts prohibit corporal punishment except in those cases, according to the individual district's policies.

The current Easton Area corporal punishment policy states corporal punishment must not be administered "in the heat of anger," and students shall not be required to remove articles of clothing when being disciplined.

It also requires the district to notify parents of the policy and prohibits the school from administering corporal punishment if the parents do not allow it. McFall said he does not know whether the district has been notifying parents about the policy.

Corporal punishment is still legal in 21 states, Riak said. New Jersey is also among the states that prohibits the practice.

A policy specifically banning corporal punishment has been proposed for the Lopatcong Township School District, which is revising all of its district policies, said Bill Taggart, school board policy committee chairman.

Previously there was no policy explicitly banning corporal punishment, but Taggart said it would have been prohibited under employment guidelines that required teachers to watch out for the physical and mental safety of students, Taggart said.

Under the newly proposed policy, a teacher who administers corporal punishment could be fired, he said.

Reporter Colin McEvoy can be reached at 610-258-7171 or by e-mail at

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