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Spanking Ban for Schools

State Capital Bureau

February 07, 1995

JEFFERSON CITY _ Paddles still ominously hang on office walls of some Missouri principals. But they would be used to hit the road after this year if some lawmakers get their way.

Sen. Joe Moseley, D-Columbia, is pushing legislation to ban corporal punishment in schools. His bill was designed to introduce children to non-physical conflict resolution.

"This is a proactive measure to eliminate the use of force by those who are role models," Moseley told a hearing of the Senate Education Committee. ``Violence is a continuum."

Most of the larger school districts in Missouri, including the Columbia school district, already have banned corporal punishment. But many smaller schools still spank unruly students.

Supporters of the right to use corporal punishment say that the local districts should decide the issue. This would allow parents to prescribe disciplinary measures for their children.

A committee substitute for Moseley's bill was introduced, but defeated by one vote.

The substitute was designed to help settle the local control issue. It would allow each school district to decide its own policy, which is the current policy. However, Moseley said it would make districts articulate their policies.

Under the substitute rejected by the committee, parents who live in a district with corporal punishment that don't want their child paddled also have options. The substitute contained a provision for parents to opt out of it by filing a request with the school board. Moseley said Columbia followed this practice before it outlawed corporal punishment.

Although the substitute was voted down by Senate Education Committee, Moseley said he's not given up on the idea for this session, and is considering ways to revive the issue.

Each district's policy would not have been permanent, under the substitute.

"It would have required them re-visit the issue every two years," Moseley said.

The Missouri National Education Association joined Moseley in opposing corporal punishment.

"It teaches children that violence is an acceptable way to get what you want," said Bob Quinn, lobbyist for MNEA.

But supporters of spanking argue sparing the rod can spoil the child.

"I don't believe corporal punishment is violence,'' said John Appleman, who said he came before the Senate committee to speak just as a parent. "It's an act of love."

Because local districts currently set their own policies on corporal punishment, Missouri's Education Department does not have any statistics about the number of children who are punished each year.

An independent agency presented its own estimate. About 16,000 students were paddled in Missouri during the 1992-1993 school year, said Fern Hammerman, spokeswoman for Missouri Coalition to Ban Corporal Punishment in Schools. She said that 10 percent of those paddled were diagnosed with a physical, behavioral, or educational disability.

"They were spanked when they were attempting to do their best," said Hammerman.

Opponents to corporal punishment say that it interferes with the learning environment because students shouldn't be constantly in fear of corporal punishment.

"They need to be in a safe learning environment," said Brenda Smith, a teacher in Southwest Missouri.

But others say that the threat of spanking ensures that learning takes place in the classroom.

"They cannot teach without first establishing good discipline," said Gary Sharp, lobbyist for Missouri Association of School Administrators and Missouri Association of Elementary School Principals. "As much child abuse occurs from the lack of discipline as the overuse of it."

Smith said that teachers should concentrate on problem solving and personal growth.

"Corporal punishment is not going to help them in their lifelong goals," Smith said. "They should be taught how to make moral judgments and how to act responsibly toward others."

But supporters of corporal punishment rights say that alternative punishment techniques don't always work.

"Corporal punishment is only used as a last resort and after all other alternatives," said Sharon Shain, the principal of Clearmont Elementary in West Nodaway County and a representative of MAESP.

The senator was unsure whether he would be able to pass the bill out of committee.

"There's no use bringing it out again until I think I can get that vote," Moseley said.

Another option would be to attach the provision to another bill, Moseley said.

"These type of bills make good vehicles," he said.