Corporal punishment may seem like an long-disused practice from a bygone era, but disciplining students in public schools through the use of force is legal in 19 states and frequently practiced.
Over the course of a single school year, in 2013-2014, over 160,000 children were subjected to corporal punishment, discipline that often involves striking a child with a wooden board or paddle, in U.S. public schools.
Of those who faced such punishment, black children, boys and those with disabilities were disproportionately affected, according to an analysis of U.S. Department of Education Data in a report by the Society for Research in Child Development.
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The number of children disciplined from an all-time high of more than 270,000 in 2003 who were punished through force at school, according to estimates by the Society for Research in Child Development. Upwards of 20,000 needed medical attention for issues ranging from bruises to broken bones and even nerve damage following administration of corporal punishment.
So what infractions exactly lead a student to face corporal punishment? Disciplinary issues can range from serious mishaps, such as setting off fireworks, to minor slipups, like not finishing homework.
In the case of children with disabilities, administrators occasionally use corporal punishment as a result of behavior that stems directly from their condition. In Southern states, these children are 50 percent more likely to face corporal punishment than their peers.
States where corporal punishment is legal include Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming. In total, 36,942 schools in 4,460 districts allow teachers to physically discipline students.
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In 1977, at a time when only two states banned the practice, the Supreme Court determined that corporal punishment was constitutional. Today, 31 states prohibit corporal punishment, and in these states, juvenile crime has not increased as a result of banning the practice, the study's authors find.
The authors further note that in some states, child maltreatment laws means that authorities cannot prosecute a teacher for behavior that would be considered abuse if conducted by a parent or guardian. In fact, while striking an animal to the point of injury would be a felony, doing the same to a child by an educator again is just fine in the eyes of the law, the study's authors explain.
Corporal punishment inflicts not only physical but also psychological injuries on children, and past research has shown that such discipline does more harm than good. In a study based on 50 years of research, children who are spanked are more likely to be aggressive and suffer mental health issues.
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