Paddlings, swats, licks. A quarter of a million schoolchildren got them last year – and blacks, American Indians and kids with disabilities got a disproportionate share of the punishment, according to a study by a human rights group.
Even little kids can be paddled. Heather Porter, who lives in Crockett, Texas, was startled to hear her boy, then 3, say he'd been spanked at school. Porter was never told, despite a policy at the public preschool that parents be notified.
“We were pretty ticked off, to say the least. The reason he got paddled was because he was untying his shoes and playing with the air conditioner thermostat,” Porter said. “He was being a 3-year-old.”
For the study, which was being released today, Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union used Education Department data to show that, while paddling has been declining, racial disparity persists. Researchers also interviewed students, parents and school personnel in Texas and Mississippi, states that account for 40 percent of the 223,190 kids who were paddled at least once in the 2006-07 school year.
Porter could have filled out a form telling the school not to paddle her son, if only she had realized he might be paddled.
Yet many parents find that such forms are ignored, the study said.
Widespread paddling can make it unlikely that forms will be checked. A teacher interviewed by Human Rights Watch, Tiffany Bartlett, said that when she taught in the Mississippi Delta, the policy was to lock the classroom doors when the bell rang, leaving stragglers to be paddled by an administrator patrolling the halls.
And even if schools make a mistake, they are unlikely to face lawsuits. In places where corporal punishment is allowed, teachers and principals generally have legal immunity from assault laws, the study said.
“One of the things we've seen over and over again is that parents have difficulty getting redress if a child is paddled and severely injured, or paddled in violation of parents' wishes,” said Alice Farmer, the study's author.
A majority of states have outlawed it, but corporal punishment remains widespread across the South. Behind Texas and Mississippi were Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Florida and Missouri.
African American students are more than twice as likely to be paddled. The disparity persists even in places with large black populations, the study found.