U.S. education secretary wants schools to stop hitting, paddling students

Florida reported 1,667 instances of corporal punishment

BERLIN, GERMANY - JANUARY 13: A student naps in a lecture hall at the Freie Universitaet January 13, 2003 in Berlin, Germany. The German university system is facing cuts of EUR 75 million in state funding over the next four years as the German government pushes through financial reforms. German politicians are also deliberating whether to start making students pay for at least a portion of the costs of their university education, though the proposal has met with fierce resitance from students, who went on strike across Germany last month. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

U.S. Education Secretary John King penned an open letter urging officials to eliminate corporal punishment in schools across Florida and the country, something he calls "state-sanctioned violence against children in school."

"The use of corporal punishment can hinder the creation of a positive school climate by focusing on punitive measures to address student misbehavior rather than positive behavioral interventions and supports," King wrote. "Corporal punishment also teaches students that physical force is an acceptable means of solving problems, undermining efforts to promote nonviolent techniques for conflict resolution."

Corporal punishment includes hitting, paddling or otherwise inflicting bodily harm as a form of discipline. Florida is one of the states that currently permits corporal punishment, however, many districts have banned it and in most instances it is up to the parent to provide consent. 

By Florida law, the school's principal is responsible for providing an outline on what circumstances warrant corporal punishment and how it should be administered. "Reasonable force" can be used as long as another adult is there to witness. School officials also must be prepared to provide a written explanation of the incident to the student's parents, if it is requested, according to the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments.

Data from the Florida Department of Education shows 1,667 instances of corporal punishment during the 2014-2015 academic year, most of which occurred in counties in North Florida and the Panhandle such as Union, Washington, Columbia, Walton and Suwanee counties. 

Florida school boards have the right to ban corporal punishment, which is the case in Orange, Seminole, Osceola and every other Central Florida county. Lake County was the last to remove the controversial punishment, voting to ban it in 2015, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Marion County removed corporal punishment from the code of conduct for the 2014-2015 academic year, just a year after adding it back, Ocala.com reports. 


King notes that of the more than 110,000 students who were subjected to corporal punishment during the 2013-2014 academic year, about 40,000, or more than a third, of them were black, even though black students make up only 16 percent of the total public school student population.

Additionally, boys and students with disabilities tend to experience corporal punishment at a disproportionate rate. The letter then sheds light on the negative effects of corporal punishment. In most instances, King wrote, it creates behavioral problems and aggression rather than correcting those issues.

"Research shows, for example, that children who experience physical punishment are more likely to develop mental health issues, including alcohol and drug abuse or dependence, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and other personality disorders," King wrote. "The excessive use of corporal punishment has been shown to be associated with antisocial behavior in children and later when they reach adulthood."

Negative effects can also be seen in the student's academic performance, cognitive functioning, verbal capacity and brain development. As an alternative, King suggests "positive behavioral interventions," better training for school officials and additional mental health professionals.

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