According to a recent report by Human Rights Watch, students with disabilities are much more likely to be spanked or subjected to corporal punishment than students without disabilities. Quoting from the press release:

In the 70-page report, “Impairing Education: Corporal Punishment of Students with Disabilities in US Public Schools,” the ACLU and Human Rights Watch found that students with disabilities made up 18.8 percent of students who suffered corporal punishment at school during the 2006-2007 school year, although they constituted just 13.7 percent of the total nationwide student population. At least 41,972 students with disabilities were subjected to corporal punishment in US schools during that year. These numbers probably undercount the actual rate of physical discipline, since not all instances are reported or recorded.

Corporal punishment, legal in 20 states, typically takes the form of “paddling,” during which an administrator or teacher hits a child repeatedly on the buttocks with a long wooden board. ACLU and Human Rights Watch interviews found that students with disabilities also suffered many other forms of corporal punishment, including beatings, spanking, slapping, pinching, being dragged across the room, and being thrown to the floor.

The report found that some students were physically abused for conduct related to their disabilities, including students with Tourette syndrome being punished for exhibiting involuntary tics and students with autism being punished for repetitive behaviors such as rocking. In some cases, corporal punishment against students with disabilities led to a worsening of their conditions. For instance, some parents reported that students with autism became violent toward themselves or others following corporal punishment.

The report is alarming, though not too surprising, and it underscores the need to ban corporal punishment in the twenty states where it is still legal, including the Great State of Louisiana. No doubt, there are many “advocates” of corporal punishment who believe such methods serve as a deterrent. And it may. But it doesn’t belong in the school, where educators and administrators are often uninformed about a child’s specific problems or disabilities. It should not be the prerogative or responsibility of the American public education system to inflict physical or bodily harm on school children, particularly when we know that disabled students are disproportionately targeted.

I am a disabled American, and I am also a product of the Louisiana public school system. I never had a teacher even threaten corporal punishment against me, except for once, in sixth grade, when a teacher terrified me by saying she wanted to rip my fingers off (I had been accused of flipping off a fellow student, not one of my best moments). But I can recall, very vividly, thinking how ridiculous and cruel it was for a teacher- an adult- to physically threaten a kid who, at the time, got around with a walker.

The New York Times picked up on the study and recently published a story about it, which included this revealing graphic:

Picture 20

In Louisiana, 1.7% of all students received corporal punishment, compared with 2.4% of disabled students. This is simply unacceptable.

I know we’re rolling back our educational standards here in Louisiana, championing a new high school diploma without all of those pesky “academic” requirements as if we’re on the cutting edge of education. But to me, this is a terrible problem with an easy fix: Ban corporal punishment. Thirty other states in the union have already done so, and if you study this map carefully, you’ll notice those states tend to rank way higher in education than those that allow corporal punishment.

In other words, there doesn’t seem to be a causal relationship between corporal punishment and academic excellence.

14 thoughts

  1. I thought corporal was banned in public schools in our State. Maybe it’s done at the Parish level.

    As a student I certainly received more than my fair share of beatings…most I deserved. Somehow I was able to develop into a productive member of society in spite of the abuse.

    Many folks are easily frustrated by people with physical and mental disabilities. As evidence, look at the number of cases of abuse that occur at Pinecrest against innocent clients who have severe developmental disorders.

    I think your assumption that corporal punishment has a causal relationship to poor academic performance is a little stretched. I would suggest the poor academic performance is more closely related to poverty, instability at home, along with lack of motivation and self control…which can all lead to behavioral problems….and ultimately a trip to the broom closet.

    It would be interesting to see what types of disabilities are included. If students with ADHD were included, I would suspect that many of them are the ones receiving the corporal punishment.

    1. Darren, you misunderstand my point: I am simply suggesting that beating, paddling, and spanking children at school seems to have no real relationship with a school’s overall academic performance. In other words, you can’t beat kids into being smarter, though there’s no doubt you can beat kids into submission. And maybe some educators think this is important; I happen to believe that a teacher should not strike a child. Period.

      Even if the kid has ADHD, he or she still suffers from a diagnosed condition that typically requires medication, and despite one’s personal beliefs on the validity of the disorder, I will always side with the expert opinion of the medical doctor, unless given concrete proof of abuse or forgery. I don’t think a teacher can justify corporal punishment against someone with a documented disability, disorder, or disease simply because they don’t believe in or understand the diagnosis.

      I’m not suggesting that students with disabilities should be undisciplined, just that corporal punishment is an arcane, often counter-productive, and irresponsible disciplinary method, particularly when employed against children suffering from disabilities, whatever they may be.

      1. Drew,

        Setting aside disabled kids for a moment – what disciplinary methods do you consider appropriate for the general population of students?

  2. My brother has tourette’s and most of his symptoms manifested in junior high and high school. Although I don’t believe he ever received any corporal punishment, he certainly didn’t receive much support either. There were a few teachers who definitely made it a point to react to behavior that they recognized as something different, particularly Judy Moreau at AJH and Penny Toney at Bolton. He barely made it through high school and didn’t have a much easier time at NSU and that’s pretty sad considering he’s very intelligent. I unfortunately wasn’t as familiar with his situation as a teen as I should have been either, so I don’t know everything he went through, but I do know that 15 years after high school he’s still very socially scarred and most likely will be for life.

    Even with all the attention given to physical disabilities, there seems to still be a very hush hush let’s ignore it attitude toward mental disorders and Louisiana seems to be far worse about this than any place else I’ve lived.

  3. Without digging deeper into the specifics of the report – it’s hard to draw any long-lasting conclusions. As someone who agrees with the reasonable use of corporal punishment, I would like to know if it’s perhaps kids with emotional disorders who are considered “disabled” for purposes of this report. There is no doubt in my mind that the ACLU and Human Rights Watch are extremely biased against any sort of corporal punishment (or even the confinement/punishment of violent criminals), so I take the headline portion with that grain of salt.

    However, if disabled children are being disproportionally punished because the personnel responsible for educating them are ill-trained and/or ill-suited to deal with disabled children, that is unquestionably unacceptable.

    1. Ace,

      When have the ACLU or HRW ever said they are against the confinement/punishment of violent criminals?

      Please, give us an example.

      1. Sorry if I implied that it is an official position of ACLU and/or HRW. I thought I used the word “biased” fairly. Taking the totality of the respective organizations’ past, it is fair to say that, at least as practiced in the United States, the ACLU and/or HRW are “biased” against confinement/punishment, and “biased” in favor of criminal defendants/convicts/incarcerated persons.

        Likewise, certainly the ACLU has demonstrated that they are “biased” against any form of corporal punishment in U.S. schools.

  4. Hey Lamar,

    This is totally off subject but a couple of years ago you posted a link to a hurricane tracking website. I can’t remember details but it was very interactive in that you could pull up any storm and watch it’s track…ring any bells?

  5. Making it more difficult to discipline students isn’t going to help the public school system. Public schools are already overwhelmed with gubmint red tape that allows a few bad apples to disrupt the educational process of the rest of the kids. Parents get tired of it and vote with their feet, sending their kids to private schools. Eliminating corporal punishment will only make things worse.

    This study gives examples that are criminal, of teachers abusing students, who should have been arrested and prosecuted for that abuse. It then cites statistics, to suggest that the “disabled” are being abused disproportionally, w/o explaining what qualifies as a disability. Since they get more money for students with disabilities, schools are encouraged to place the label on the kids, so to a certain extent they are being hoist on their own petard. Also, diagnoses of autism and ADHD have gone up exponentially in the past few decades.

    So, when my kids were at ASH, I told Urbina to paddle them if they committed any offenses, and he did. The youngest one has been diagnosed as borderline ADHD, and they can paddle her too. I’d paddle her myself, but she’s pretty quick, so I have a hard time catching her. I keep waiting for Child Protective Services to knock on my door.

  6. Lamar,
    I didn’t mean to imply that kids with disabilities of any kind should be subject to corporal punishment for behaviors that are a direct result of their conditions. It is up to the schools to provide a tolerant and understanding atmosphere for those who have little control over their behavior. However, if a kid has some other physical defect that has no bearing on his ability to behave, then he should be beat just like anyone else if he shows his ass…..and if that doesn’t work…then its straight to “time out.”

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