Hit and miss

April 19, 2014

Officials with the Public Schools of Robeson County collectively hold their breath each year when the state releases information on the use of corporal punishment. Robeson County not only leads North Carolina each year, but by a substantial margin — and the report brings unwanted scrutiny to the system.

The report is misleading — and requires a close examination for reliable conclusions to be drawn.

For example, during the 2012-13 school year, the most recent for which statistics are available, 70 percent of the instances of the use of corporal punishment in North Carolina occurred in Robeson County. But the Public Schools of Robeson County is among only a few of the state’s 115 districts that allow its use, and many districts among those that do allow it use it sparingly.

The statewide numbers also show that American Indians represent almost half the students who have been disciplined with corporal punishment during the three years records have been kept, but those numbers are skewed by Robeson County’s inclusion. It’s clear that American Indian parents are more likely in this county to grant permission — and that their children are not being singled out by a system that is so well represented by American Indians in the central office, on the Board of Education and in the schools themselves.

A careless reading of the report might suggest that corporal punishment is common in the Public Schools of Robeson County; in fact, during the 2012-13 school year, it was used one time over a course of an entire school year for every 170 students. It is also, pardon the pun, hit and miss in this county, with some school principals electing not to use corporal punishment at all.

According to an ABC poll, about three in four Americans say corporal punishment should not be used in schools as a form of punishment, and American Psychological Association has taken a stance against any use of corporal punishment, saying that physical punishment, including spanking, can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury and mental health problems.

Thirty-one states don’t allow corporal punishment at all.

The decision not to spare the rod runs deep in the county’s culture — and it will take a long while before it is uprooted. Its widespread use here, not necessarily in the schools but in the home, might be a bullet point among reasons why Robeson each year is tagged as the state’s most violent county.

There isn’t compelling evidence that corporal punishment is effective, and it does make the school system vulnerable to litigation.

In Robeson County, no child can be spanked with prior permission from that child’s parents or guardian. It is, according to schools Superintendent Johnny Hunt, only administered as a “last resort.”

But the two biggest head-scratchers for us are: Why would any parent give permission for another adult to strike their child as a means of discipline, and why would any educator step forward to take on that responsibility?