The Mobile County school board voted 4-1 Tuesday to eliminate corporal punishment. Only board president Lonnie Parsons was in favor of keeping it. "I think we have moved to a higher level tonight, by saying this is a system where children will be respected," said board member Hazel Fournier, who for several years has tried to ban school spankings.
"We will not promote the idea of cruelty toward one another," she said. "We will find other methods of changing behavior."
Superintendent Harold Dodge recommended that paddling be abolished in the system's 101 schools, in part to protect the system from lawsuits. But Parsons and some principals had said that sometimes corporal punishment is the most effective form of discipline.
Though previous moves to formally ban the practice have failed to get enough support on the board, paddling has been on the decline.
During the 2002-2003 school year, there were 532 reported paddlings in Mobile County's public schools. That was down from more than 1,000 the year prior. The school responsible for a majority of those paddlings last year -- Mae Eanes Middle, in the Maysville community -- abandoned the practice this year, according to principal Douglas July.
"The majority of our schools are opposed to it. The majority of our parents are opposed to it," said board member John Holland.
Parsons said he was disappointed in the decision. He cited paddling as a biblical way to punish children.
"We've taken the 10 Commandments out of the courthouse, God out of our schools and now paddling and discipline out of our schools," Parson said. "Paddling does have a place in our schools."
Dodge said Tuesday's vote was a result of several years of warning school officials of the liability involved in corporal punishment.
"I think our discipline will be just as good without it," he said. Alabama law permits school spankings, but also allows the system to abolish the practice. State law grants criminal and civil immunity to teachers who use corporal punishment, as long as they follow school policy.
Until Mobile County's Student Code of Conduct was changed by the board Tuesday, corporal punishment was to be used "only as a last resort after other corrective measures have failed."
Students to be paddled were to have it done in front of a faculty witness and were to be swatted no more than three times.
Parents could send a note to the school requesting that their children not be paddled. But if no such note was on file, teachers and principals could spank a student without notifying the parents.
Principals could eliminate corporal punishment as an option at their individual schools.
There has been no major effort in Baldwin County to eliminate corporal punishment, but John Lee, assistant superintendent for that 24,000-student system, said it is being used less and less each year. Last year, the system reported 453 paddlings, almost the same as Mobile County, according to state records.
Nationally, 28 states have outlawed school paddlings and Pennsylvania is in the process of doing so. One out of every nine paddlings in the 1999-2000 school year occurred in Alabama, according to information from the U.S. Department of Education.