2010-04-02 / On Second Thought

Corporal punishment has no place in our schools

By Jennifer Dearing MSW student, USC, Class of 2011

While our General Assembly is on hiatus for the Easter holiday, there are social work students galore campaigning for causes all across the capital city. Some are holding forums for the City of Columbia mayoral candidates, some are campaigning for domestic violence protection for immigrants, and then there is a small group of social work students concerned and advocating for students in public schools who are most vulnerable to one of the most despicable laws we have on the record here in South Carolina: legalized corporal punishment in schools.

As if corporal punishment in our school system is not bad enough, there is a bill sitting in the Senate Education Committee, S. 1042, which would grant every public school district and their employees immunity from criminal and civil litigation for delivering corporal punishment to children in public schools. This proposed legislation is sponsored primarily by Sen. Jake Knotts, a Republican from Lexington County but is also sponsored by other Republicans and Democrats alike including Senator Larry Grooms, a Republican from Berkeley County, and Kent Williams, a Democrat from Marion County. Read a full text version for yourself at www.scstatehouse.gov by typing “1042” in the search box.

While I do not have the print space to completely dissect this bill and tell you everything that is wrong with it, I can tell you the main concerns that a group of social work students from the University of South Carolina have about this bill: this bill does not provide any clear guidelines as to what would warrant corporal punishment as discipline, and it does not indicate whether or not a substitute teacher would also be given the same immunity as a teacher and school district personnel.

The fact of the matter is that this particular legislation would do more harm than good to one of our state’s most vulnerable populations. According to Donna Happach, executive director of ParentingPartners, each year in South Carolina over 11,000 children are victims of child abuse and neglect and, at any given time in South Carolina, there are 7,500 children in foster care. So it would definitely make sense to exacerbate the situation by allowing our teachers and administrators free reign to abuse children in the classroom, right? WRONG.

Did you know that in states where corporal punishment is legal in schools that minority students and students with disabilities receive disproportionally more beatings in school than their non–minority and non..disabled peers? Did you know that children who receive corporal punishment in school are more likely to be perpetrators of domestic violence as adults? Did you know that children who receive corporal punishment in school are more likely to become aggressive and or depressed?

If a child is sent to school and has visible marks that were received from excessive corporal punishment in the home then more than likely there will be an investigation opened by the Department of Social Services and the child will be placed in foster

care until a treatment plan can be enacted to protect the child. If this bill should ever pass, would it not be considered a double standard to allow a teacher, who is a mandated reporter of child abuse, to inflict further harm on this or any other child without any liability? Do we really want to allow our legislators to legalize abuse in public schools? Do we really want to further complicate matters in our school system by sending a conflicting message to parents? More importantly, do we want to send conflicting messages to the students in our school system which we, as a society, are responsible for educating and protecting? I ask you to think seriously about these questions as the second year of our legislative session comes to a close.

The children in South Carolina’s public schools suffer enough. Overcrowding, poor facilities (remember the Corridor of Shame?), teen dating violence, the list goes on. Each of us has a personal responsibility to break the cycle of abuse by not encouraging our teachers and school administrators to engage in corporal punishment, which would ultimately be legalized abuse.

Let’s lead something good for a change. Let’s finally put our children first. Jump on the bandwagon with me and let your legislators know that you do not want S1042 to be introduced year after year. Let them know that you want corporal punishment in schools banned and made illegal in the State of South Carolina. Stand up for your children and your neighbor’s children and trust me, a social worker will thank you.

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