Teachers In 23 States Can Still Spank Kids. This State Has Had Enough.

Corporal punishment is still legal in schools for nearly half the nation. Really.

Rear view of father who leads a little boy hand in hand to kindergarten. Father and son with backpac...
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For many people of a certain age, being sent to the principal’s office for an infraction and being paddled was just something that happened. Until relatively recently, corporal punishment in schools was not only accepted, it was applauded by many parents who felt schools should offer strict discipline, just like many parents did at home. And now, one state might finally ban the practice.

Over the last 20 years, though, as mounds of evidence have proven that spanking is not only harmful physically but can have lasting effects on emotional and social development, the practice has fallen out of favor. Many parents choose to refrain from corporal punishment at home and assume that, similarly, schools opt for nonviolent discipline for students.

That’s far from the truth, however. Currently, there are 23 states where physical punishment in schools is either allowed or at least not forbidden, and according to data from 2018, thousands of kids are still regularly spanked or paddled at school. Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming schools still allow corporal punishment, while Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Indiana, Maine, New Hampshire, and South Dakota do not expressly prohibit it. A few of the named states — Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Tennessee — prohibit corporal punishment only for students with disabilities.

In Colorado, that might change. State lawmakers are set to pass a bill that would officially ban corporal punishment in schools. “Corporal punishment is linked to a range of negative outcomes for children across countries and cultures, including physical and mental ill health, impaired cognitive and socioemotional development, poor educational outcomes, increased aggression and perpetration of violence,” said state Rep. Regina English, a co-sponsor of House Bill 23-1191.

The Colorado bill is timely. The Biden administration recently called for a ban on corporal punishment in all of the 23 states that still allow (or don’t disallow) the outdated and dangerous practice. In a letter to governors and state and district school leaders, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona encouraged teachers and administrators to cease “paddling, spanking or otherwise imposing physical punishment on students.”

The letter cited data that boys, students of color, and students with disabilities are on the receiving end of corporal punishment more frequently than their peers and that, in many cases, the punishment starts as early as preschool. Cardona wrote that over the 2017-18 school year, almost 1,000 preschoolers were subject to corporal punishment.

In an accompanying 27-page document, the Education Department laid out a framework for schools to implement a school environment that is “safe, inclusive, supportive, and fair.”

Some Colorado lawmakers worry that a ban on corporal punishment, or any punishment that causes pain, might extend, rightfully or not, to exercise-based punishments like running laps or doing push-ups.

“I do struggle with the idea that we shouldn’t expose our children, in any way, shape or form, to pain. Because the world is full of pain,” Rep. Stephanie Luck, a former sixth-grade teacher, said during the bill’s floor debate. “Ten push-ups might result in some discomfort, but it might also turn poor behavior to a good behavior and the outcome of that good behavior will allow the student to flourish.”

The bill passed the House after all but one Republican representative voted against it. It is set to be heard by the state Senate, where it is expected to pass before being sent to Gov. Jared Polis for approval.