Paddling under review: School board to vote on corporal punishment

CNJ illustration: Ryn Gargulinski

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

A policy that allows students to be paddled as a form of discipline is rooted firmly in the Clovis Municipal Schools. Only one of the school district’s five board members raised concerns Tuesday with the procedure during an annual policy review session.

“I have issues with corporal punishment,” said school board member Lola Bryant.

She drilled school administrators on the policy that allows students to be swatted with a wooden paddle up to three times “for any one infraction or in any one day.”
Fellow school board members listened to her objections with tight lips.

“I think our policy is good the way it is, in that the parents have ultimate authority in deciding whether their kids have corporal punishment used as a means of punishment,” school board member Mark Lansford said after the review session.

The policy does place the power to veto corporal punishment with parents. But parental notification procedures vary from school to school.

Some parents must sign a form allowing corporal punishment to be used on their child in school. Some schools don’t administer corporal punishment, so they do not send forms home. Others mention corporal punishment policies in handbooks and parents must notify school staff if they do not want their child punished physically.

Misti Kelley, mother to a 4-year-old James Bickley student, belongs in the “never-got-a-form” category. She is bothered by the prospect of any child, let alone her own, being physically punished at school.

“I think I would be suing the schools if they actually swatted one of my kids. There are other ways,” Kelley said, “to punish children without hitting them.”

Corporal punishment is not used frequently as a method of punishment, but it is used in more than one Clovis school, Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm said. While the majority of principals in the district shun the procedure, they decide if it is used, when it is used, and how parents are notified of the procedure, she said.

“Typically, corporal punishment is used after other things have been tried and didn’t work,” Seidenwurm said during the policy review session. “I can’t think of a situation when a child would receive corporal punishment without the parent knowing.”

Barry Elementary Principal Carrie Bunce chooses not to use corporal punishment.

“I don’t believe it teaches students not to behave in a certain manner. We use moments of misbehavior as teaching opportunities,” said Bunce, who frequently tells trouble-making students to write essays about their infractions.

Yet Bunce is not an advocate of banning corporal punishment altogether. “It should be left to the individual school,” she said.

New Mexico is one of 13 states that permit corporal punishment, according to an anti-corporal punishment Web site.

The state, however, is somewhat distanced from the fray. Lawmakers decreed the definition of corporal punishment should be left to individual school districts, said Willie Brown, general counsel for the New Mexico Public Education Department.

The Clovis Municipal Schools policy does so quite well.
The paddle used must be “smoothly sanded.” It must not contain holes or cracks. There should always be a witness to a paddling, but it should take place in a private place. Only principals, assistant principals, a teacher in charge in a building without a principal, or a professional staff with the given authority to do so can administer paddle swats. A child of any age is subject to a swat.

Despite such an intimate portrait of how to ethically administer corporal punishment, approval of corporal punishment is low among principals and parents, according to school administrators.

School board members could ban the age-old practice from Clovis schools, administrators said. But all signs suggest the practice will live on.

The school board policy in which corporal punishment is condoned is to be voted upon by board members at the Feb. 28 school board meeting, 5:30 p.m., 1009 Main Street.