A small group in South Carolina is targeting 11 school districts that they say paddle students as a form of punishment. The South Carolina Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools calls the practice “archaic and ineffective.” However, at least one school district defends the practice as a proper discipline method, saying it is used as a last resort and only with the parent’s permission.
“It’s one thing when it goes on in a home, (but) you’re talking about an educational institution… and they’re hitting five and six and seven-year-olds with boards,” the organization’s Executive Director Maureen Young said, “If that were to happen with the elderly in an assisted-living facility, charges would be pulled.”
She is pushing districts to end corporal punishment, awarding the “Top Hitter” award to district superintendents of Anderson School District One, Darlington County School District, and Abbeville School District. The attention is meant to shame the district into ending the practice.
Young said she obtained data on corporal punishments from each of the districts’ disciplinary records. In 2009-2010 (the most recent year available) Sumter District 17 used the practice most often– on 81 students– but stopped the punishments when it moved with Sumter District 2 this past year. Anderson One was second that year, with 80. Darlington had 79 incidents and Abbeville 62.
Anderson One Superintendent Dr. Wayne Fowler emphasized that it was up to each school to decide on its corporal punishment. He said only .008 percent of students had received paddlings that year. “We don’t use it unless as a last resort, and only by the permission and encouragement of the parents,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.
The district’s policy requires the principal to first consider: the seriousness of the offense, the past behavior of the student, the nature of the punishment, the age and physical condition of the student, the availability of less severe means of discipline (such as no recession, in-school suspension, etc), and the teacher’s motivation.
Fowler said the district has some of the “best-disciplined” students in South Carolina and that Anderson One is one of the safest districts in the state. However, the claim appears anecdotal, as neither the South Carolina Department of Education nor its federal counterpart maintains the data to back it up.
Young, a retired military vet, said she first became involved in the issue while working as a student teacher in Cincinnati, where she witnessed a five-year old paddled for not standing still in line. That was 1991.
“I had no idea that it was still being used,” she said. Young joined a national anti-corporal punishment group before later moving to South Carolina. She said she understands the challenges many school officials face trying to maintain discipline in poor, rural schools. “I know that they have a very difficult time,” she added, “But a lot of these kids are coming from backgrounds or situations where they are really challenged and they don’t have any way of knowing how to deal with their feelings.” Young said those students who receive the punishment are overwhelming likely to be African-American boys from low-income families.
39 states (including Ohio) have banned the practice completely. Those states that still leave it up to the school districts tend to be located in the Southeast. Even in South Carolina, it seems to be on the way out, as 7 districts have ended corporal punishment since 2008.
Fowler said he found it unfortunate the district’s academic record was being ignored in the controversy, “I’m not totally sure why this is such a major issue. This is such a small number (of paddlings).”