LUMBERTON — Corporal punishment was banished Tuesday evening from the Public Schools of Robeson County by a 6-5 vote of the Board of Education, with the board chairman casting the tie-breaking vote.
Robeson County was one of two school districts in North Carolina that continued the practice of paddling students as part of its disciplinary policy. It was allowed in the system only with the consent of a child’s parent or guardian. A report to the school board showed that 28 students were paddled in the 2017-18 school year, all American Indian and all in two elementary schools, Union and Prospect.
The issue was hotly opposed Tuesday during the board’s regular meeting by parents in the Prospect community. Six Prospect residents spoke in favor of retaining corporal punishment at the school, including Eric Freeman, president of the school’s Parent-Teacher Organization.
“At a recent meeting, we polled parents,” Freeman said. “One hundred parents asked that the policy not be changed, and zero voted to stop spanking.”
Other speakers asked that their right to determine how their children are disciplined not be taken away. Donavan Locklear, a parent, said there was research that indicated spanking school children did no harm.
“Taking parental choice away about how we raise our children is not fair,” Locklear said.
Jason Locklear said paddling was more educationally productive than suspending students, and “it’s quick and easy to administer. It links students’ actions to consequences.”
School board member Dwayne Smith agreed with the speakers, saying the decision to stop corporal punishment is part of an unfortunate trend in education.
“You see what happened with they took prayer out of the schools,” Smith said. “You’re taking rights away from parents.”
Board member Brian Freeman said he did not see a disciplinary policy to replace spanking.
“It is our job to educate children and a parent’s job to discipline them. If they do that, there would not be problems in school,” said Brenda Fairley-Ferebee, a school board member who has led the effort to end corporal punishment.
Fairley-Ferebee made a motion to end corporal punishment that was seconded. Board member Charles Bullard, who represents the Prospect community, made a substitute motion to keep the policy that was also seconded.
Bullard’s motion drew a show of hands in support from Freeman, Dwayne Smith, Steve Martin and Randy Lawson. Voting against the motion were Fairley-Ferebee, Craig Lowry, John Campbell, Loistine DeFreece and Linda Emanuel, the newest member of the board.
Chairman Mike Smith, who is the longest-serving member of the school board, broke the tie, voting to not to retain the policy.
The vote to end corporal punishment went the same way, 6-5, with Mike Smith casting the deciding vote.
In other business, the board heard the 2017-18 school violence report that showed there were 12 incidents of serious violence in the schools. Red Springs High School led the system with four incidents, Magnolia Elementary had three and Lumberton High School had one incident, including the school’s only reported case of assault with a weapon.
The school board also heard plans for dropout prevention. One hundred-and-72 students dropped out during the 2016-17 school year, or 1.67 percent of the eligible population.
The North Carolina dropout rate for that year was 1.59 percent. The dropout rate for the Public Schools of Robeson County increased sharply compared with the previous year, but looking at the history, fluctuations are the norm.
More males than females dropped out, and more American Indian students dropped out than other races. Seventy-eight American Indian students dropped out compared with 40 African American students, 21 white students and 17 Hispanic students.
The board members heard more from its team that is targeting the county’s 26 low-performing schools. Ten student success advocates, paid for with a federal grant, will be placed in the schools.
Jennifer Freeman, who is leading the program, asked for 10 additional staff members. The request fell on deaf ears.