Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

EDUCATION: CORPORAL PUNISHMENT; Spare the Rod? Not at Many Public Schools Duval County Schools Lead the State in Use of Paddling as a Form of Punishment

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

EDUCATION: CORPORAL PUNISHMENT; Spare the Rod? Not at Many Public Schools Duval County Schools Lead the State in Use of Paddling as a Form of Punishment

Article excerpt

Byline: CYNTHIA L. GARZA, The Times-Union

Baker County schools Superintendent Paula Barton has a small paddle -- custom-fit to her hand -- stashed away in a corner of her office. Once in a while, she'll get a call from a parent requesting she bring it out.

She said they tell her: "Miss Barton, put it on them like you put it on me."

She speaks candidly about the tough-love discipline generations of schoolchildren have come to know and often accept. It's a tough-love discipline used just more than 3,700 times in the past decade and 405 times last year in Baker County schools, according to state records.

It was the most per-capita student paddlings compared to other Northeast Florida schools. The region's largest school system, Duval County, leads the state in its overall use of corporal punishment during the past 10 years, paddling students more than 15,000 times during that time, according to records obtained from the Florida Department of Education.

But spanking is a mostly unspoken form of discipline in many Northeast Florida public schools.

Statewide, about two-thirds of all Florida school systems paddled students last year. Most of the larger school systems -- including Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties -- haven't used corporal punishment in the past five years.

The numbers have dwindled significantly in the past 20 years. In 1981-82, a little more than 184,000 Florida students were paddled, compared to 11,000 spanked last year. During 1981-82, Duval County also spanked more students than any other Florida county.

While all of Baker County's five regular public schools and alternative school use corporal punishment, Duval County has extreme ends of use. Last year alone, the 1,300 paddlings that took place in Duval County schools happened in about a fourth of all its schools, with one school -- Northwestern Middle School -- using it 474 times alone.

The decision to use corporal punishment is set school by school. Most of the schools in the system don't use it.

"I think it's a punishment that swings either very positive or very negative," Duval County School Board member Vicki Drake said. "There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of middle ground."

Drake said its use depends on the principal and feedback from the parents. School officials and board members said they don't hear much about the subject from parents.

What generally is defined as spanking is one or more swats on the behind with a wooden paddle, officials said. Policy calls for the punishment to be delivered only by a school administrator, in his or her office, and with at least one other administrator present. The amount of force used isn't designed to hurt the student but to deliver what the administrator thinks a parent would judge a reasonable amount of pressure, Baker County High School Principal David Crawford said.

Duval County Parent Teacher Association President Reta Russell-Houghton said the state and national PTA have a position against the use of corporal punishment in schools.

"What does it teach children? That I'm bigger than you, therefore I can hit you?" Russell-Houghton asked. "There are other methods you can use with children."

The National PTA strongly favors abolishing corporal punishment in schools. For communities opposed to banning it, the group recommends establishing a corporal punishment policy that includes notifying parents and having a clear policy on when it is administered and why it is used. It also encourages districts to keep records of incidences of corporal punishment by race, gender and disability.

According to Duval County school records, which are kept by race and gender, nearly 80 percent of the paddlings last year went to black students. Forty-three percent of the county school system's student population last year was black.

Northwestern Middle School Principal Saryn Hatcher inherited the school that used corporal punishment the most last year. …

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