Remove paddling as a disciplinary option in schools

The following Our View first appeared in The Robesonian on Sept. 11, 2016. It is republished today with some minor changes because the issue of corporal punishment apparently will be discussed on Tuesday during the meeting of the Board of Education — editor.

A risk without a corresponding benefit is foolhardy, which is why we are glad to learn that Robeson County educators are raising their hand to discipline mischievous students with less frequency.

Never would be even better — and that now seems like a possibility.

According to NC Child, which advocates against corporal punishment in public schools, during the school year that ended in 2016, spanking was used 35 times in the Public Schools of Robeson County, a decrease of 60 percent from the previous year, and of more than 90 percent since the 2010-11 school year.

Still, the 35 instances of corporal punishment were the most administered during the last school year by any school district in North Carolina, which is less troubling when this is factored in: Ours is one of only two out of 115 North Carolina school districts clinging to this anachronism, with Graham County sharing in the shame.

The problems with corporal punishment are many, but let’s begin with this: It doesn’t deliver a benefit.

“There are now more than 80 studies that indicate that corporal punishment is an ineffective form of discipline,” said Tom Vitaglione, a senior fellow at NC Child. “We hope that the education leaders in Graham and Robeson will soon join their colleagues in the state’s other 113 local school districts in making corporal punishment in North Carolina a thing of the past.”

The insistence by some Robeson County schools in recent years to continue to use the paddle has resulted in this not-so-fun fact: Locally paddling has been administered disproportionately in schools that have significant American Indian populations, so breakdowns of the use of corporal punishment in North Carolina have shown that most who end up on the wrong end of the paddle are Lumbees.

It’s not a good look for our county.

That look is worse because we are told that often children with disabilities suffer from the paddle, which is a new level of shameful.

There are other problems with corporal punishment, including its arbitrary application. At one school, being disrespectful to a teacher might earn a paddling, while at another school the same behavior might result in a note to be signed by a parent.

That violence in any fashion is justified is a dangerous message to send future generations in a county as violent as ours.

There is also always the possibility that an educator swings too hard, and a child suffers a real injury.

And there is the lingering threat of litigation; while the Public Schools of Robeson County requires a parent or guardian’s permission before raising the rod, it’s always a gamble when lawsuits are filed and reach the courtroom.

There is no indication that the dwindling use of corporal punishment in our schools is a result of a directive of the Board of Education, but rather is a choice being made at individual schools, where principals are understanding that paddling has no upside.

But that doesn’t absolve the Board of Education from removing corporal punishment as a disciplinary option, and therefore leaving Graham County stuck alone on this matter.

There appears to be a good chance of that happening on Tuesday as local advocates for its abolishment believe they have enough votes for a favorable vote. If it happens, it will be a small but important step for the county and the local school system into the 21st century.