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Missouri school district reinstates corporal punishment – Boston News, Weather, Sports


A school district in southwest Missouri has decided to bring back spanking as a form of discipline for students, but only if their parents agree.

Classes resumed Tuesday in the Cassville School District for the first time since the school board in June approved bringing corporal punishment back to the 1,900-student district about 60 miles (100 kilometers) southwest of Springfield. The district dropped the practice in 2001.

The policy states that corporal punishment will be used only when other forms of discipline, such as suspensions, have failed and then only with the superintendent’s permission.

District spokeswoman Mindi Artherton was out of the office Friday and a woman who answered the phone in her office suggested reading the policy. She said staff had already done interviews. “At this time, we will focus on educating our students,” she added, before hanging up.

Corporal punishment has long been criticized by many child development experts as being detrimental to a child’s growth.

Sarah Font, an associate professor of sociology and public policy at Pennsylvania State University who coauthored a 2016 study on the subject, said the practice is falling out of favor with public health officials and researchers because it doesn’t seem to improve child behavior in the long term.

“And there’s reasons to believe that it’s, in the long term, harmful for kids’ overall development and functioning,” Font said. “And so really, I think it’s a question of not just are there harms, but there’s no evidence of benefit.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that corporal punishment is constitutional and left it up to states to set their own policies. When Font’s research was published in 2016, 19 states allowed the practice.

Even among the states that permit it, most districts still don’t use it, Font said, given concerns about whether students were being punished for symptoms of disabilities or other issues that would be illegal or inappropriate.

“It just seems like a really high risk practice for a school to intentionally seek out,” she said.

Her research found that districts using corporal punishment are generally in poor, Republican-leaning rural areas in southern states. Font said Black children are disproportionately subjected to it, in part because the policies are more commonplace in districts with higher minority populations.

Cassville Superintendent Merlyn Johnson told The Springfield News-Leader the decision to revive corporal punishment came after an anonymous survey sent to parents, students and school employees found they were concerned about student behavior and discipline.

Johnson said many parents have complained that the district doesn’t use corporal punishment.

“We’ve had people actually thank us for it,” he said. “Surprisingly, those on social media would probably be appalled to hear us say these things, but the majority of people that I’ve run into have been supportive.”

The policy says a witness from the district must be present and that the discipline will not be used in front of other students.

“When it becomes necessary to use corporal punishment, it shall be administered so that there can be no chance of bodily injury or harm,” the policy says. “Striking a student on the head or face is not permitted.”

In Missouri, periodic efforts to ban corporal punishment in schools have failed to gain traction in the state Legislature.

A spokeswoman for Missouri’s K-12 education department said the state does not track which school districts allow corporal punishment because those decisions are made at the local level and approved by school boards.

(Copyright (c) 2022 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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