Along with the all of the other forms sent home to parents on the first week of the school year, parents in the Cassville School District in Missouri got something a little different: a permission slip for paddling.
After over 20 years without corporal punishment in the Springfield-area schools, the school board voted to allow parents to opt in to paddling as a disciplinary measure earlier this summer.
"My plan, when I came to Cassville, wasn't to be known as the guy who brought corporal punishment back to Cassville,” explained Superintendent Merlyn Johnson to the Springfield News-Lender. “I didn't want that to be my legacy and I still don't. But it is something that has happened on my watch and I'm OK with it."
The decision came after a survey of parents, teachers, and students that revealed that behavior and discipline was a leading issue at the schools. This lead to the school board exploring more options for controlling behavior.
"Parents have said 'why can't you paddle my student?' and we're like 'We can't paddle your student, our policy does not support that,'" he said in the interview. "There had been conversation with parents and there had been requests from parents for us to look into it."
Johnson explained that all parents can opt in or opt out, and that paddling won’t take place without express written permission. He also said that spanking would be used as a last resort.
"We've had people actually thank us for it," he told the local reporters. "Surprisingly, those on social media would probably be appalled to hear us say these things but the majority of people that I've run into have been supportive."
In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled public school corporal punishment was constitutional, and to this day 19 states allow it in schools, including Arkansas, Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Wyoming. However, many individual school districts do not allow the practice, and many more simply don’t use the practice even if it’s an option.
Corporal punishment is legal in private school in all states except for New Jersey and Iowa.
All in all, about 160,000 kids around the country are subject to corporal punishment in their schools.
Parents seem split on the decision in Missouri.
”Like in school suspension that would be fine with me,” one parent told a local news channel. “Or even out of school suspensions. Those are just way better than corporal punishment.”
But another one welcomed having the extra option.
“No matter what you choose, I think you need to sit down with your kids and choose what’s best for you and your family,” the parent said. “Trust that everyone there at Cassville is not going to do anything that you don’t want done to your child.”
Spanking and paddling is disproportionally prevalent in states with greater rates of poverty and lower graduation rates. And Black students, boys, and students with disabilities are disproportionally far more likely to be physically punished than other students, according to a sweeping report on the subject.
Extensive studies on corporal punishment have found while spanking and physical abuse leads to better immediate cooperation and behavior, it can have negative short- and long-term effects on children, including physical harm, aggression, antisocial behavior, mental health issues as an adult.