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by Tom Vitaglione

For the first time in the history of North Carolina – as a colony and a state –  no public school child began the new school year in fear of being hit by school personnel. That’s because all 115 local school districts now prohibit the use of “corporal punishment.” Every local district took this step because the research shows that corporal punishment does not improve academic outcomes. However, corporal punishment is associated with impaired social and psychological development, and increased aggressive behavior.

This leaves us with an anomaly: while every local district prohibits it, state law still allows school personnel to “intentionally inflict pain upon the body of a student as a form of discipline,” up to the point that the student might “require medical care beyond simple first aid.” This law is often considered North Carolina’s most grisly statute with regard to children.

Our laws reflect our values. They help describe who we are. Happily, during the 2019 legislative session the NC House passed H295, which prohibits corporal punishment in the public schools. The bill passed the House 94-16, affirming local decision-making across the state, as well as the recommendations of the State Board of Education and a host of professional and advocacy organizations. But most of all it recognized that hitting public school students is no longer who we are.

Surprisingly, the bill has been sitting unheard in the NC Senate for four months. Despite the fact that there is no organized opposition to the bill, the Senate Education Committee has thus far declined to give the bill a hearing. As a result, North Carolina will continue to be counted among those states that allow corporal punishment, where students are hit more than 20,000 times a year! Whatever our outdated laws say, I am grateful that no student will be hit by a teacher or principal in our state this year. 

We’ve had our share of image problems in North Carolina in recent years. Corporal punishment doesn’t need to contribute to them any longer. Local school leaders have presented the state with an opportunity to shine. Will the NC Senate take it?

Tom Vitaglione is NC Child’s Senior Fellow for Health and Safety.

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