Paddling may not really be last resort, data show

February 27, 2004
Commercial Appeal - Memphis, TN

By Ruma Banerji Kumar

Paddling of middle school students accounts for more than half the spankings in the district's schools last year, a Memphis City Schools study released Thursday shows.

Black students and boys were overwhelmingly more likely to get spanked than their white and female counterparts.

Roughly 97 percent of the 27,918 paddlings last year were given to the district's black children, while only 2 percent were given to white children.

The district is roughly 87 percent black and 9 percent white, with Latinos and Asians making up roughly 4 percent.

The numbers raise questions about whether paddling is used arbitrarily and too often to be an effective deterrent.

"I was shocked," school board member Lora Jobe said. "We had more than 27,000 beatings. That's a lot for a disciplinary measure that's supposed to be used as a last resort."

Middle school spankings were so rampant that Airways Middle alone accounts for nearly 9 percent - 2,497 paddlings - of the corporal punishment last year.

Despite the high paddling numbers in some schools, Supt. Carol Johnson said the fact that 38 schools reported no paddling reveals a slow movement away from corporal punishment.

"If all it took was corporal punishment, then we'd have well-behaved students," she said. "But when you look at our suspension data and paddling data, we're still struggling with helping kids to make the right choices."

School board members had planned to discuss the district's corporal punishment policy and Jobe's recent proposal to ban paddling, but the meeting Thursday was poorly attended so the small group stayed away from those questions.

Only two board members - Deni Hirsh and Jobe - were present for a discussion of the corporal punishment policy. Board president Patrice Robinson joined the discussion via phone, but the remaining six members were absent.

Hirsh said she'd rather see paddling banned in Memphis, and fears it's being abused as a form of discipline.

"I know for a fact that children are being paddled for minor dress code violations, and that's just not appropriate," said Hirsh, who supports banning corporal punishment.

The school board meets Monday and could discuss the data, but no vote on corporal punishment is expected.

- Ruma Banerji Kumar: (901)529-2596