Back to the Past? | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Back to the Past?

Spanking could be on its way back to Jackson Public Schools if some board members have their way.

JPS board member Sollie Norwood broached the topic at a recent meeting, arguing that educators need to regain "some measure of control" over their students.

"I'm a firm proponent of parents disciplining their own children. If they don't discipline at home, though, they don't have the right to bring their children's behavior to school and disrupt the teaching and the learning in the classroom," Norwood said. "Teachers need to be in control of the classroom."

Rankin and Madison counties already engage in the practice, and Hinds County schools outside JPS implement corporal punishment. Norwood's wife, Joan Norwood, is a teacher in Byram.

"I'm finding that many teachers (in Jackson) are supporting the idea," Norwood said. "Out of all the teachers I've talked to, I have only one person that questioned it."

JPS board member H. Ann Jones and board Vice President Jonathan Larkin say they oppose the disciplinary method, claiming it doesn't work and possibly opens the district to legal troubles.

"We abandoned the practice in the 1990s because it wasn't working," Larkin told the Jackson Free Press, referring to the board's decision in 1991 to move away from the method.

Nadine Block, executive director of the Center for Effective Discipline, in Columbus, Ohio, said statistics showed paddling to be non-effective.

"Statistics going back to 1976 from the U.S. Department of Education show that the same kids are hit over and over. We hit poor kids, kids who are minorities, kids who have disabilities and boys. It's borne out in the statistics that it doesn't work."

Jones added that the practice was disproportionately used on black male students, and emphasized that she feared reviving the method would bring greater liability upon a district that struggled to balance its budget this year.

Mississippi Education Superintendent Hank Bounds acknowledged that a great number of school districts engage in corporal punishment, but strongly urged districts to resort to other methods.

"There are many options other than corporal punishment available to the districts. Right now, 98 districts out of 152 districts in Mississippi use corporal punishment, but I would ask that any district considering implementing the practice please consider the possible legal issues," Bounds said.

Many other states in the nation have already disavowed the practice. Twenty-seven states have banned it altogether, while at least nine other states have more than half of its school districts refusing the practice.

Many national organizations affiliated with public education oppose the practice, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Association of State Boards of Education.

The national NAACP has adopted a hard stance against the practice. Jackson NAACP President Gus McCoy said bringing back corporal punishment raised "too many unanswered questions."

"There are not enough answers before you start implementing such a measure. Who, for instance, would you let spank your child? Will they call the parent first? Are parents allowed to intervene? The NAACP says corporal punishment is outdated, and I agree with that."

Still, surrounding counties regularly use the punishment, and Norwood argued that JPS could learn to keep down the threat of lawsuits by studying others.

"Parents should sign a waiver at the beginning of the school year," Norwood said. "If they don't sign the waiver, it will put added responsibility back on the parent. When their child is acting up, then you'll have to be in a position to come out and deal with it when requested. It can be administered appropriately in an educational environment, with a specific, designated person doing it. I don't doubt there will be some challenge to it, but we've got to come up with a way to make school safe for our children, safe for our staff and conducive to learning."

Norwood said that the procedure should be a last-resort method, and just one factor in a greater set of rules aimed at the parents of problem students.

"It's not just about corporal punishment. The parent must be at mandatory meetings. They can't give excuses, and we can't allow them to have excuses. If they're not willing to work with the school, then the parent should face fines, or have charges filed against them, whether its educational or medical neglect or child abuse. Those are all the things we can look at," Norwood said, adding that the district would be looking to work with municipal and county judges regarding the possibility of fines.

The board will consider the matter in an upcoming meeting. Norwood said the board is in a "fact-gathering phase," and open to opinion from parents and attorneys.

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