Published: October 20, 2009
BRISTOL, Tenn. – A longtime policy that allows Bristol students to be spanked came closer to being swatted into history Monday night, when Board of Education members gave initial approval to a proposal banning corporal punishment in city schools.
By a 4-1 vote, board members approved a recommendation by Director of Schools Gary Lilly that the district drop corporal punishment as a discipline option at its seven schools.
The school board now must hold a second vote, scheduled for Dec. 14, to officially approve the ban. It would take effect immediately.
“It’s inappropriate in this era,” said board member Nelson Pyle, explaining his vote to eliminate spanking.
But Kelly Buskell III, the sole board member who voted against Lilly’s proposal, said while he didn’t support corporal punishment, he saw no reason for a formal ban.
“It’s hardly being used at all now in our schools anyway,” Buskell said in a post-meeting interview. “But I felt we should at least keep it as an option for discipline.”
Tennessee is one of 21 states where corporal punishment is still legal, according to a 2008 report by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union. The report, which demanded a nationwide end to corporal punishment, stated that Tennessee ranked sixth among states in the number of students who receive such discipline.
In Bristol, that punishment has been delivered by spanking students with a wooden paddle. Lilly said parents had to give permission for their children to be spanked – and that it was only used after other disciplinary actions had failed.
During Monday night’s meeting, Lilly urged school board members to ban spanking, saying there were growing legal concerns about the practice. Lilly said he’d recently consulted with a state legal adviser, who told the director that while school principals who paddled students were legally protected from allegations of assault, they were not immune from accusations of inappropriate or improper touching.
“It exposes our district and our principals to unnecessary liability,” Lilly said. “This isn’t a philosophical issue. It’s a legal one.”
Lilly’s proposal drew no comments from residents and others at Monday night’s meeting.
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