Spanking ban likely in Cherokee schools

Thursday, 10/16/2003
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Student paddling is apparently on its way out in Cherokee County as school board members tonight consider abolishing the seat-warming policy as an inappropriate form of discipline.

Cherokee would be one of the last major metro districts to abolish corporal punishment.

In practice, no Cherokee student has been whipped in school in at least three years, since Superintendent Frank Petruzielo told principals he could envision no circumstances under which corporal punishment would be appropriate.

"There are more progressive forms of discipline," he said, citing in-school suspension as an option.

"We could be putting teachers in danger. If they're sued or arrested, it's them, not us," Petruzielo told school board members in recommending the policy change.

A proposed discipline policy would allow the use of "reasonable force" against a student in self-defense, to protect others or school property or to preserve order.

Cathy Cheatham, who has two children in Cherokee schools, said she'll be glad to see corporal punishment banned. "It should be abolished. It's not effective. At home I use timeouts and withholding privileges," said the Towne Lake mother.

Georgia is one of seven states that extends immunity to educators who use corporal punishment, according to the Center for Effective Discipline, a national "no hitting" advocacy group based in Columbus, Ohio. Although they have the legal protection, Cherokee officials think the risk is too great, even if a teacher or administrator prevails in the legal battle that could arise.

"What teacher or administrator wants to go through that?" said Cherokee school board Vice Chairwoman Kelly Campbell.

In the three years since the practice has been effectively banned in Cherokee, Campbell said, there has been no dramatic increase in behavior problems.

Twenty-eight states prohibit corporal punishment in schools, with Pennsylvania expected to be the 29th this year, said Nadine Block, director of the Center for Effective Discipline, and a former school psychologist.

Corporal punishment in schools, Block wrote to Petruzielo, "is as outdated as the outhouse and the buggy whip."

Block said districts that do not allow corporal punishment generally have higher student achievement levels, better graduation rates and attendance. "Children learn best when they aren't in an atmosphere of fear," she said.

Nationally, she said, "we have gone from 64,000 students paddled in 1984 to fewer than 500 today."

Child and family psychologist Cathy Blusiewicz, who is in private practice in Buckhead, said combining anger with punishment could produce harsher punishment than intended "that children remember for years."

"Hitting them is the last resort, one that models violent interaction," Blusiewicz said.

It wasn't always that way. When Phil Gramling, a retired Cherokee middle school principal, starting teaching in White County in the 1970s, parents expected teachers to spank misbehaving children.

"Back then, if you suspended a fellow for getting into a fight or carrying a knife, you would expect his father on your doorstep expecting us to 'whup him' [the child], not send them home," he said. "We never sent anybody to the office. We took care of it out in the hall."

Gramling says "good riddance" to the policy: "It's not only humiliating to the student but demeaning to the one who gives it."

Sequoyah High School Principal Doe Kirkland still has her rarely used wooden paddle. "Usually just seeing it was enough to scare them," she said. "No principal I know enjoyed paddling a child."

Former Cherokee Superintendent Marguerite Cline, who also was a Cherokee teacher, used her hand on her third-graders to be certain she wasn't spanking too hard.

"It was the culture back then," she said. By the mid-1980s, when she became superintendent, the practice had fallen out of favor.

"Most teachers and administrators didn't want to face the risks," she said. "We had become a suing society."

Campbell, the Cherokee board member, pointed out that schools today have children from differing economic, cultural and racial backgrounds, as well as some children and parents who do not speak English well.

DeKalb Schools spokesman Spencer Ragsdale said corporal punishment had been abolished "years ago" and that in the 11 years he has been with the district, he knew of no child receiving a paddling.

If it acts tonight, Cherokee will be decades behind Fulton County in abolishing paddling.

Fulton schools spokeswoman Susan Hale said she could find no one at the central office who remembers when authorization for corporal punishment was on the books. "It's probably been 50 years since we did away with it," she said.