Schools have bigger issues than corporal punishment

The Public Schools of Robeson County face a number of challenges, including, in no particular order, student achievement that ranks among the worst in the state, crowded schools that are literally falling apart, teacher shortages, insufficient supplies, a need to build a new school, no permanent central office, and the list is only getting started.

So what did the Board of Education spend a few minutes talking about on Tuesday? Corporal punishment, and whether it would continue to be used as a form of discipline in the local school system, but more precisely, at Prospect Elementary School.

No decision was made, so there will be more talk, perhaps at the school board’s retreat in early August, and maybe again at the board’s regular meeting that month.

On Tuesday, Charles Bullard, whose district includes Prospect, was the most vocal in support of corporal punishment, offering that the county’s “best” school uses it, and that the board shouldn’t let “outsiders” make this call. He, and board member Dwayne Smith, both warned about taking parents’ “rights” to have their child punished away.

Brenda Fairley Ferebee spoke up against the use of corporal punishment, and — rightly we believe — pointed out that a system policy against the use of corporal punishment isn’t denying any parent a right to spank their child should they wish. The rod can be raised at home.

We have been vocal in our opposition to the use of corporal punishment in the local schools, mainly because the risks, which are substantial, dwarf the benefits, which are next to impossible to discern. Corporal punishment has been used historically in this county, and we are the most violent in North Carolina.

Are those two things linked?

There simply isn’t any trustworthy information that demonstrates corporal punishment is an effective means of discipline.

It could be that all but two school systems in North Carolina have this wrong, and that Robeson and Graham counties have it correct. We don’t think so.

It is true that corporal punishment in this county can only be administered with the advanced approval of the parents, and it is being used less frequently with the passing of each school year. Perhaps parents are increasingly making the decision not to trust another adult with a paddle with their child, or school officials are getting more reluctant to use paddling to remedy bad behavior. The decline in usage is probably a bit of both.

Mike Smith, the chairman of the Board of Education, says the board has promised to settle this matter before the start of the new school year. A local group of concern residents has pushed for change, and even said it would take the fight to Raleigh if the school board does not change the policy, But local legislators don’t seem eager to get in the middle of this fight.

We have no idea why the local school board would want to continue a practice that makes the system vulnerable to litigation should something go horribly wrong. Any school board member who believes a permission slip from a parent will serve as a legal defense should a lawsuit be filed if the worst were to happen is either blissfully ignorant to the realities or recklessly stubborn.

Either way, we hope the school board will show some leadership and end this conversation the right way or the other way. There are much more important things to be discussing.