Georgia, where a mother recently shared an outrage-inducing video of a school principal paddling her 5-year-old son, is among 19 states that allow corporal punishment in schools.
In fact, corporal punishment was used against public school students 166,807 times in the United States in the 2011-2012 school year, according to the most recent federal data available. A study by the Children’s Defense Fund, using earlier data, estimated that 838 public school students were given physical punishment every school day.
What’s more, the right to slap, spank or paddle a student is protected by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 1977’s Ingraham v. Wright that physical discipline in public schools didn’t violate the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment or its due process protections. In that case, the court cited America’s long tradition of corporal punishment in schools — as long as it’s not excessive or unreasonable.
But the high court’s ruling, and the continued practice in many states, didn’t settle the issue. Some researchers argue that spanking can help drive down a child’s IQ or ability to learn. Others say it triggers more aggressiveness. And child welfare advocates warn that corporal punishment — along with harsh but non-physical discipline — is often applied disproportionately to students with disabilities and those who are black, raising the chances that they will fall behind in school.
An advocacy group called the National Child Protection Center has proclaimed April 30 “Spank Out Day.” It’s meant to encourage alternatives to corporal punishment.
Among most states that allow corporal punishment in schools, there are strict guidelines — including the requirement that parents to be part of the decision, and that it not cause serious injury.