Utah doesn't allow physical punishment without a parent's specific written permission, while Texas does unless the parent has written a letter prohibiting physical discipline on their child. Maryland bans corporal punishment altogether but does not specify what constitutes as corporal punishment, and Alabama allows it but also has no specific guidelines as to what corporal punishment means.
Due to the lack of regulations and lack of training on how to administer physical punishment, in schools that allow it, paddlings can be given for incidents that range from tardiness to fighting. The paddle size can range, as can the number of swats given.
"I've been doing this a long time and I don't know that I've ever seen anyone offer training," Superintendent Daryl Scoggin of Tate County, Miss. told Education Week. "I had it done to me, and so I knew what I needed to do. I guess it's more that you learn by watching ... We don't practice on dummies or anything like that."
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Although it's not banned nationally, the Federal Head Start Program prohibits the use of corporal punishment among early education grantees, which why they have since terminated a $6.4 million grant funding the Head Start program in Prince George's County, Md. After conducting a review, officials found several instances of corporal punishment and humiliation tactics used in the program, including a 3 year old who was forced to mop up his own urine in front of the class.
The review also discovered instances where staff made children hold heavy objects above their head for an extended period of time. The local D.C. Fox affiliate, Fox 5, first reported these incidents in which one young girl told them that an assistant teacher "wanted me to hold boxes in the air. I couldn't breathe. When (the teacher) came in, she made me hold more books, my arms melted. I cried because my arms hurt so much."
In April of this year, a video surfaced showing an Atlanta elementary school principal paddling a 5-year-old boy and telling his mother that if she tried to stop him he would suspend the boy and have her arrested. Although corporal punishment in schools is allowed in Georgia, the Jasper County School district released a statement saying that when physical punishment is administered in their schools, it's with parental consent. The parent in this incident clearly didn't give permission, which prompted the district to launch an investigation.
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Despite evidence from social science research that corporal punishment negatively impacts children, it continues to be practiced in the United States, primarily in the South. David Finkelhor, head of the Crimes against Children Research Center and Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, told NBC News he believes physical punishment still occurs because of traditions of American southern culture, like a strict approach to the law and adherence to teachings of the Bible.
Proponents of corporal punishment argue that it works as a disciplinary tool in moderation, but Finkelhor thinks that notion is misguided, considering non-physical discipline has been shown to work just as well. "My analogy is that if you have two medicines, and one of them you have to be very careful about where you administer it and worry about side effects and negative outcomes, and the other is just as effective, it's a no-brainer which one you should use," he told NBC News.
At this time, the Education Department has not barred the practice of corporal punishment, but a number of national education, healthcare and child welfare groups have publicly come out against it.