By Tom Vitaglione
Imagine going to work wondering whether this is the day that your supervisor will hit you for making an error. The fear is real because you know that it has happened to co-workers. The fear distracts from your ability to perform. You would love to get out of this situation, but your options are limited, so you just have to grit your teeth and carry on.
Not so long ago, almost all students attending North Carolina’s public schools experienced a similar fear. Corporal punishment, the sanitized name for hitting students, was practiced in almost all the state’s 115 local school districts. Now we’re down to two districts – Graham and Robeson – where just two principals account for 91 percent of all occurrences of corporal punishment.
While this is a vast improvement over recent history, it’s deeply disconcerting that two principals administer corporal punishment so frequently, while the rest of the state has left the antiquated practice behind. In each district, there are circumstances of great concern.
In Graham, virtually all the corporal punishment is administered by the male principal at Robbinsville High School. The procedure (not written in policy) is to give students who have received in-school suspension the option of receiving corporal punishment in its stead. Those who choose (or are perhaps manipulated into) corporal punishment are then hit by the male principal. This includes paddling teen girls.
In Robeson, virtually all the corporal punishment occurs at Prospect Elementary, and almost all the recipients are members of the Lumbee Tribe. This is evocative of the old “Indian Schools” of the past where tribal students were subjected to harsh discipline.
Because of numerous research studies, the education community now knows that corporal punishment does not improve academic performance, and is actually associated with the impairment of students’ psychological and emotional development. With these negative outcomes well-documented, it’s the responsibility of elected officials to restrain the bullying behavior of these two principals.
When all local districts used corporal punishment, it was understandable that the General Assembly left the issue to local school boards. Now, however, there are just two, and both use the practice troublingly. It would take just 26 Senators and 61 House members to not only protect the students in Robeson and graham, but also take North Carolina off the list of 19 states that still allow corporal punishment.
No child attending a public school in North Carolina should fear being hit by a teacher or principal. Most North Carolinians are shocked when they learn that corporal punishment is still legal and practiced in our public schools. It is time for our General Assembly to make corporal punishment a thing of the past.