-- The Democrat-Reporter, October 17, 2002
Linden, County Seat of Marengo, AL

Mom battles school paddle

Michaela Curtis says Title 16 makes D'polis teachers immune to state's child abuse law.

Michaela Curtis has not stopped her fight to get excessive corporal punishment banned from Alabama schools--and more specifically from Demopolis schools.

Curtis wants parents to be aware that what happened to her son--deep bruises from paddlings at schools--could happen to someone else's child--and she said it has. Curtis said it has happened again in Demopolis, but the parents are afraid to come forward.

In her study, Curtis has found the law to protect children has been circumvented by another law that protects school employees.

Curtis' youngest son, Jonathan, was paddled for picking his nose while at Westside Elementary School March 26, 2001.

The paddling was administered by Jennifer Lay, behavior management specialist for Demopolis City schools.

Jonathan told his mother he got paddled three times that day, but it the next day when Curtis discovered the extent of the paddling. Jonathan was getting out of the bath when his older brother, Matthew, spotted the deep bruises on his bottom.

Jonathan admitted he had gotten in trouble again the next day for the same reason. He was sent to Mrs. Lay. Jonathan said he was paddled eight times Tuesday after three times Monday.

Curtis' husband is a doctor and was working in Selma when the bruises were discovered. Michaela Curtis called him, and then took Jonathan to the Demopolis hospital, where police and human resource officials were notified.

Nothing was done.

The Marengo County Department of Human Resources would not respond because they don't investigate incidents in public schools, Curtis was told.

A Demopolis Police officer responded and took a report. Curtis was told Det. Tim Soronen would follow up and talk to Jonathan. He never has, she said.

"We are trying to get people of Alabama to realize that Title 16 which is Alabama Code 16, is the Teacher Protection Act, and it indemnifies all public school employees from bus driver to janitor, cafeteria worker, teacher, principal, all of them. It indemnifies them when they use corporal punishment on a child.

"The act specifically says, in 16-28-2, there is exemption of teachers and employees from application of Title 26."

"Title 26 is Alabama's Child Protection Act. Title 26 is actually a very good child protection act. It has provisions for mandatory notification when a teacher suspects ( expects is typed in error) abuse at home. The act says abuse of a child will not be accepted from anyone."

In 1995, along came Title 16 and in one fell swoop they indemnified all public school employees. This law goes on to say, that not only are they indemnified, but they are immune from civil and criminal prosecution.

"That is why I can't get an attorney to look at our case, because the law allows it." Curtis said, "If by chance I could get a lawyer to look at it, my tax dollars will pay for the teacher's lawyer."

" If a child did the same thing this teacher did, then the child is arrested immediately...and expelled. However when a teacher crosses the line with assault and battery, they are purposely well protected, not just protected, but immune."

"As far as corporal punishment here in Demopolis no policies have changed that I am aware of since last school year." The handbook wording has changed, though. In the handbook they have dropped the mention of corporal punishment, but yet it is fully allowed.

"It indirectly still allows them to do it." Under due process it allows corporal punishment.

Curtis said at the middle school, students may not have restroom passes from class except in emergency situations. The four minutes allotted between classes is when students can go to the bathroom.

Curtis has a list of 107 national organizations which have spoken out seeking to ban corporal punishment in schools. The list includes the American Medical Association, Alabama Bar Association, and the Alabama Education Association.

"It is just a little too much freedom to hand over."

Curtis said she is not seeking to hurt the school system in any way. The Demopolis City Schools were one of the main reasons she and her husband chose to move to Demopolis. Their two younger sons are excelling in their classes.

"I just want this remedied. I want the problem fixed. I just want these children, including my own, to be safe," Curtis said..