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Oklahoma GOP Blocks Bill That Would Ban Corporal Punishment of Disabled Students

The measure, which had bipartisan support in the House, was defeated by far right Republicans citing biblical passages.

A bill that would have banned school districts in Oklahoma from using corporal punishment on students with disabilities in public schools failed to pass in the state House of Representatives, where far right Republicans, some citing biblical passages, defeated it.

The bill received bipartisan support from both Democrats and Republicans, and was actually sponsored by a Republican, Rep. John Talley, who is himself a minister and whose spouse is a retired special education teacher. Most lawmakers in the chamber backed the bill, which received 45 votes in favor of passage and 43 votes opposed to it. However, rules in the Oklahoma House of Representatives stipulate that bills must receive a majority of votes to successfully pass, meaning that 51 lawmakers needed to support it in order to advance.

In promoting the bill, Talley told local news media that it was needed because children with disabilities may not always understand what they’re being punished for.

“I just think a special needs student does not need to deal with that pain, because I think they would be wondering, why is this happening to me?” he said to a local television station.

Yet several Republicans in the House, including Rep. Jim Olsen, disagreed with the need to ban the use of corporal punishment. Olsen has vociferously defended the practice, stating that his opinions derive from the Old Testament of the Bible.

“Proverbs 13:24, ‘he that spareth his rod hateth his son: But he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.’ So [the Bible] tells us that if you will not use the rod on a disobedient child, you do not love that child,” Olsen has said in his commentaries.

Olsen has also refused to acknowledge the opinions of health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), stating that God’s word was above their views, which are based on scientific research and observations over many years of data collection.

Talley rejected Olsen’s interpretation of the Bible, noting that it is highly selective.

“Why don’t we follow all the other Old Testament laws?” Talley said in response to Olsen. “There’s about 4,000 of them, and one of them is to not allow wives to wear jewelry, or stone your child if they’re disobedient. Why don’t we do that? Because we pick and choose what we want to follow.”

A separate state Republican lawmaker opposed to the bill, Rep. Randy Randleman, touted his supposed bona fides as a psychologist who has previously worked with children, justifying his vote by saying he never wants to hear a child say “you can’t touch me” when it comes to schools being able to use corporal punishment.

“Let me tell you, a spanking is not abuse,” he added — a statement that contradicts what most health organizations, including the AAP, say about the practice.

Other lawmakers, including Democrats, derided Republicans for blocking the bill.

“It’s 2023 outside; it’s 1880 in here,” state Rep. Forrest Bennett (D) tweeted.

“I knew there was potential for some push back (for reasons I’ll never understand), but for the bill to die? I didn’t expect that,” House Democratic Leader Rep. Cyndi Munson explained in a Twitter thread. She added:

Whether you are hit at home or at school, whether you have special needs or not, the outcome is the exact same: you’re left feeling unworthy, unloved, and in complete fear. That’s not how we should treat any person, let alone a child.

Oklahoma is one of 19 states in the U.S. that still allows corporal punishment for all students in public schools. Current state law forbids corporal punishment for “students identified with the most significant cognitive disabilities” established by the State Department of Education. Talley’s bill would have changed the language of state statutes to read that corporal punishment would be banned “on any student identified with a disability.”

Although corporal punishment of students with disabilities is currently regulated by the state Department of Education, it is a rule, not technically state law. As such, hundreds of physical punishments against students who are disabled have continued to happen over the past several years, in spite of the use of corporal punishment declining throughout the U.S. over the past few decades.

In the 2021-22 school year, for example, 63 school districts in the state used such punishments for disabled students, amounting to 455 instances total, per Talley’s research.

Corporal punishment for children is viewed by most mental and psychological health organizations as detrimental to their development, and ineffective at correcting unwanted behaviors. Although allowed in some parts of the U.S., around 50 countries throughout the world ban the practice, with the United Nations considering it to be a human rights violation.

According to a report in 2016 analyzing more than 250 different students on corporal punishment, the practice results in more negative effects and few, if any, positive ones. Hitting children to correct behaviors results in increases in aggression in those children, that analysis found, as well as a decline in mental health for those who are abused and a reduction in cognitive ability.

“Corporal punishment is abusive, ineffective, and violates international human rights law,” a report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says, noting that its use on children who have disabilities is especially heinous:

Corporal punishment is abusive for all children, but it has particularly severe effects for students with disabilities. Not only is it ineffective in teaching them appropriate behaviors, it can cause lasting mental and physical injury, and it can make students aggressive and unable to learn. For students with disabilities, corporal punishment can be followed directly by a decline in their medical conditions.

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