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Missouri School District Brings Back the Paddle to Discipline Students

Studies have demonstrated that corporal punishment produces lasting psychological harm to students.

A school district in southwestern Missouri is bringing back corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure, in the form of spanking with a paddle.

Cassville Public Schools announced the option for parents to “opt into” having their children be punished by being “swatted on the buttocks with a paddle,” according to reporting from The Kansas City Star. Under the new policy, students can be hit by a school administrator with a paddle to avoid suspension, with the permission of a parent or guardian.

The district’s decision to allow the archaic form of punishment in schools has divided the community.

“I do not think it is appropriate…At the end of the day, they are having to hold the child down and spank them or use whatever means that they can to make the child submissive when that is not the issue, it is the fact that they need to be heard because children act out for varied reasons,” said Miranda Waltrip, a parent of three children who attend the district.

Superintendent Merlyn Johnson has claimed that most of the district’s residents back the change, citing feedback he’s personally received from community members in support of the disciplinary measure.

“This was just another option that we could use before we get to that point of suspension,” he said.

There are a number of nonviolent alternatives to suspensions that the district could have chosen to adopt, however. One effective and meaningful disciplinary measure is restorative chat, which helps students “understand the harm done by their actions and [allows] them an opportunity to repair this harm” in an empowering and non-humiliating way, according to a 2017 article from the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Corporal punishment, specifically spanking, has long been known to be an ineffective means of disciplining children; in fact, such measures can actually increase the very behaviors that disciplinarians are trying to correct.

“Many studies have shown that physical punishment — including spanking, hitting and other means of causing pain — can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury and mental health problems for children,” writer Brendan L. Smith noted in an article for the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology in 2012.

More recent studies have also found that corporal punishment can result in long-term negative effects for children that often last into adulthood.

“We know that spanking is not effective and can be harmful for children’s development and increases the chance of mental health issues,” said Jorge Cuartas, who co-authored a Harvard study on the issue that was published in 2021. “We also know it can have potential impact on brain development, changing biology, and leading to lasting consequences.”

A 2016 study published in the Society for Research in Child Development found that, in states where corporal punishment is still used in schools, Black children, boys and children with disabilities were disproportionately targeted.

The district’s return to corporal punishment comes as right-wing lawmakers are launching a barrage of attacks on students’ autonomy across the country, often under the banner of preserving parental rights. In recent months, far right lawmakers have banned books from school libraries, specifically those that include Black and LGBTQ perspectives; attempted to force teachers to “out” trans students to their parents; and imposed Christianity upon students in public school settings where religious actions are not supposed to be promoted by faculty, among other actions.

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