Some Ohio Schools Not Sparing the Rod


Corporal Punishment Allowed in Districts


September 24, 2000

By SCOTT STEPHENS

PLAIN DEALER REPORTER

Rhonda Rose wonít soon forget the imprint the wooden paddle left on her daughterís buttocks

Bria Rose, a 17-year-old honor student and homecoming queen at a small southern Ohio high school, received the whack from the 6-foot-4-inch, 250-pound assistant principal of her school. Her crime: a schoolyard tiff with another girl that ended with a shove.

"I took her to the urgent care center, and the doctors thought her uterus had been knocked out of place," the mother of three recalled. "Thereís a difference between spanking and beating. My daughter had vaginal bleeding for 23 days."

Outlawed in prisons and mental hospitals, corporal punishment is still allowed in 23 states. Those states include Ohio, where 43 of 611 districts donít spare the rod, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics for the 1998-99 school year.

That year, the latest from which statistics are available, more than 700 Ohio students were disciplined with a paddle. More than 500 of those students were from a dozen districts, mostly in the southern and western parts of the state.

However, in Ohio and across the country - and throughout the world - the number of students being paddled in schools is on the decline. In 1982, the U.S. Department of Education reported more than 1.4 million incidents of paddling in public schools. By 1994, that figure had dropped to about 470,000.

Still, the United States remains one of only three industrialized nations - along with Canada and Australia - to allow paddling students for bad behavior.

"Itís certainly moving in the right direction," said Nadine Block of the Columbus-based Center for Effective Discipline Inc., an anti-paddling watchdog group. "But for kids who are being paddled and sometimes injured, itís not moving fast enough."

On paper, Ohio "abolished" corporal punishment in 1994. But the law approved by the state legislature contained an important loophole: Local school boards can vote to reinstate corporal punishment in their districts if they first establish a local "discipline task force" made up of educators, parents and community leaders to review the issue.

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In districts that reinstate corporal punishment, parents who do not want their children paddled can sign a waiver forbidding school personnel from striking their child.

To complicate the issue, some schools in districts that have abolished corporal punishment still have it listed as a disciplinary option in their student handbooks. The handbook at North Ridgeville Middle School, for instance, states that "swats may be administered," even though neither the school nor the district actually paddles students.

"We donít use it as a matter of policy," said John C. Komperda, the schoolís principal. "I donít even own a paddle. I donít favor it myself, although Iím not totally convinced that there is not a time or a place for it. But it really is a community value. We have a few parents who support it, but an overwhelming majority do not support it."

Neither do most influential professional organizations. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Bar Association and the National Association of School Psychologists all are against school paddling.

But paddling also has plenty of advocates. In recent national surveys, nearly 40 percent of the parents and 75 percent of the teachers surveyed supported corporal punishment in schools. So does the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1977 gave schools the OK to paddle children, even if their parents donít approve.

Berea police Detective Robert Surgenor, an advocate of spanking children who misbehave, has mixed feelings about school officials picking up the paddle. His self-published book, "No Fear: A Police Officerís Perspective," argues that lack of discipline - including corporal punishment - can lead to child delinquency.

"If my child swore at a teacher, Iíd give them the green light" to use the paddle, said Surgenor, Bereaís juvenile crime investigator and a father of five. "But I have to honor the wishes of parents who donít want a child physically punished at school by someone else."

Thatís an option Rhonda Rose wishes she had. She said her daughter, who had never been in trouble before, chose being paddled over a three-day suspension because she would have missed classes and basketball.

After the December 1997 paddling, the Roses sued the Bloom-Vernon schools. In depositions, the district disputed that the girlís injuries resulted from the paddling. Superintendent Paul White did not respond to telephone calls for this story. The assistant principal who paddled the girl has left the district.

Concluding the suit should have been filed in state court, a U.S. District judge in Cincinnati dismissed the case in March 1999. At her daughterís urging, Rose did not pursue the matter.

Bria Rose is now in college, studying to become a teacher. Her mother remains bitter about the experience and is a staunch opponent of corporal punishment.

"They know they got away with this," she said. "If I had done that to her, it would have been child abuse. People just donít realize the danger until it happens to their kids."


E-mail: sstephens@plaind.com

Phone: (216) 999-4827


©2000 THE PLAIN DEALER. Used with permission.