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By Tom Vitaglione

School bells will soon ring in the new academic year for most of North Carolina’s children. For the first time ever, students in the Robeson County public schools will not have to fear being hit by teachers and principals. That’s because the local school board has decided to ban the practice of corporal punishment, which is defined in statutes as the “intentional infliction of pain upon the body of a student as a measure of discipline”.

This is remarkable, because Robeson has always been a leader in the use of corporal punishment. Even as most local school districts in the state dropped the practice, and as research grew confirming that it is associated with no positive outcomes (though associated with impeded social and cognitive development), it seemed that corporal punishment might go on forever in Robeson.

This is a good example of the need for and benefit of long-term advocacy. For more than two decades, statewide and local Robeson advocates have been calling for a ban. Over the years, that led to fewer and fewer uses of corporal punishment each academic year. Recent changes in superintendent and board composition created a more fertile environment for change, and a new group of local advocates did a remarkable job of delivering the message. The surprising outcome will result in safer and less fearful days for Robeson’s students.

The full force of the advocacy movement will now focus on Graham County, the last local district in the state that uses corporal punishment. In a surprising (and troubling) twist, the practice occurs only at Robbinsville High, where the principal still seems to think that hitting teen boys and girls is a good idea. The county is so small that it is difficult to identify local advocates. And it is so isolated that the teens may not even realize that being hit by school officials is not the norm.

The success in Robeson is generating heightened interest in making North Carolina the thirty-second state to ban corporal punishment statewide. To that end, Graham: here we come.

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