Tuesday, November 10, 2009

TN: School board changes paddling policy

Mary Jo Denton
Herald-Citizen Staff
Monday, Nov 09, 2009

COOKEVILLE -- From now on, Putnam school principals who discipline students by paddling must not make any difference between boys and girls. That and other considerations -- age, size, physical and emotional condition of the student -- were removed from official school policy last week by vote of the Putnam school board, acting on a recommendation from the Tennessee Dept. of Education and the Tennessee School Boards Association.

The board's action removes this sentence from official school board policy on corporal punishment: "In determining the use and degree of corporal punishment, consideration will be given to the age, sex, physical and emotional condition of the child." Why did the education officials recommend doing away with that provision in the corporal punishment policy? Because of a grievance filed by Tennesseans for Non-Violent School Discipline. That group filed the grievance against Putnam and several other school systems which still had the gender consideration in their paddling policies.

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The grievance was filed with the Office of Civil Rights, based on the Title IX federal law which requires gender equity for students in education programs that receive federal funding. Including gender as a consideration in whether to paddle and how hard to paddle amounts to gender discrimination, the group argues.

Reportedly, Putnam County was among 68 Tennessee school systems cited in the group's complaint. After last Thursday's school board meeting in which the considerations clause of the corporal punishment policy was deleted, the Herald-Citizen asked Director of Schools Kathleen Airhart about the use of corporal punishment in the county's schools. "It's pretty infrequent here," she said. "Only a handful of our schools still use it. Most resort to other means in disciplinary matters." She said paddling is still used at Cornerstone Middle School, White Plains Academy, and Cane Creek Elementary.

She said the current policy allows parents to opt out of school paddling of their children. "But some parents tell us they want their children paddled if necessary." The official board policy says this: "Any principal or assistant principal may use corporal punishment in a reasonable manner against any student for good cause in order to maintain discipline and order within the public schools in accordance with guidelines."

The guidelines are as follows:
* Corporal punishment shall be administered only after other less stringent measures have failed, or if the conduct of the student is of such nature that corporal punishment is the only reasonable form of punishment under the circumstances.
* The instrument to be used in administering corporal punishment shall be approved by the principal.
* Corporal punishment shall be reasonable.
* Corporal punishment shall be administered in the presence of another professional employee.
* The nature of the punishment will be such that it is in proportion to the gravity of the offense, the apparent motive and disposition of the offender, and the influence of the offender's example and conduct on others.

The policy also requires that a detailed record of the incident and the punishment be made.

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