Wednesday, June 3, 2009

FL: Okaloosa schools ban corporal punishment

The decision allows the school to avoid a new state law requiring periodic policy reviews
June 2, 2009 - 8:07 PM
Mona Moore
Daily News

Gov, Charlie Crist signed legislation last week that has Florida school districts following the lead of Okaloosa County.

The new law requires districts that still use corporal punishment to review the policy at a School Board meeting and take public testimony every three years.

Districts that do not meet the requirement would be banned from paddling students as a form of discipline.

Joe Skelly, a psychotherapist in Mary Esther, has fought against corporal punishment in local schools since 1993.

"(With Bill 1540), you can see the tide of public opinion turning because corporal punishment's ineffective," he said. "We honestly believe it to be child abuse. That's what the American Psychiatric Association calls it. Plus, at a time when we're cutting costs, the exposure of one lawsuit based on corporal punishment would be devastating."

The Okaloosa County School District will not be affected by the new bill. The School Board voted 4-1 last week to ban corporal punishment. The new policy, which took effect immediately, was not prompted by the pending legislation.

The disciplinary measure was on the decline long before last Wednesday's vote. Instances of corporal punishment dropped from 468 in 2000 to 194 in 2008. One-third of the county's schools had already prohibited paddling.

In the district's first week without paddling, Superintendent of Schools Alexis Tibbetts said she has noticed no impact.

"There are so many alternatives for discipline in schools," Tibbetts said. "There's many different ways of disciplining children. Corporal punishment certainly was a tool, but it was a mechanism or technique that wasn't absolutely necessary in view of the fact that we have a lot of different alternatives."

Skelly said he was ecstatic with the board's decision.

"It confirms that we live in a progressive area," he said. "And it confirms my faith in Alexis and the rest of the School Board."

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