CORDELL — When Linda Drew's 12-year-old son came home from Cordell Elementary School with bruises from a paddling, she filed a police report against the principal even though her husband had given permission for the swats.
“I expected his bottom to maybe be red, but he had a bruise that was 8 centimeters by 7 centimeters on each butt cheek and the bruises lasted for three days,” Drew said. “I feel that that was excessive force.”
The principal hit her son twice with a wooden paddle.
The district attorney in the case didn't bring charges, saying this instance of corporal punishment was clearly not against the law.
Oklahoma is one of about 20 states to allow corporal punishment in schools.
From a ruler across the knuckles to a wood paddle to the behind, every state school district drafts its own policy for corporal punishment.
Some ban it, and some highly regulate it.
Cordell Schools Superintendent Brad Overton said the district's policy gives parents the choice to opt out of corporal punishment in the beginning of the year.
If a student doesn't have an opt-out form on file, Overton said parents are contacted before corporal punishment is administered and given options. Another certified teacher must be present for the punishment, he said.
Overton said those policies were followed.
Drew's husband was given the option of “two-swats and be done with it,” Linda Drew said, or several days of detention or in-school suspension.
He chose the swats.
“I feel that my son needed to be punished and shouldn't be fighting in school, but he doesn't need to be beat,” Linda Drew said.
Drew said she took her son to Cordell Memorial Hospital, where they filed a police report against Paul Pankhurst, the junior high school principal who administered the corporal punishment.
DA finds no crime
District Attorney Dennis Smith, who oversees five counties including Washita County, where Drew's son attends Cordell Public Schools, said his office reviewed the police report and found that no crime had been committed.
“Everything was done within the law properly,” Smith said.
“Anytime a child is involved we're going to look at it, it doesn't matter what … but again the law is pretty specific. That's allowed.”
State statute specifically allows parents, teachers and other adults to use “ordinary force as a means of discipline, including but not limited to spanking, switching or paddling.”
DHS says it has no jurisdiction in case
The Cordell police report said that in interviews with all faculty members involved, there “was no sign of excessive force during the administration of the punishment.”
Determination of injury is the key when the Department of Human Services considers whether corporal punishment has crossed the line in a home, a department spokesman said.
“Punishment crosses the line when an injury is involved,” said Mark Beutler, spokesman for DHS, emphasizing the department has no jurisdiction in the educational arena.
“In a home situation, we look at several variables. Those include the age of the child, was an injury sustained, and if so, the location and severity of the injury.”
Overton said corporal punishment is one of several options that his staff uses.
“It's just another option as a consequence for students to try to correct behavior,” Overton said. “That's what discipline is about, trying to correct behavior or inappropriate behavior.”
Another state statute specifically prohibits the state Education Board from interfering with a school's disciplinary policy. So change either would have to occur locally or at the legislative level.
Drew said she is going to take the issue of the district policy to the school board for consideration.
“I realize it's legal in the state, but the school district itself can change their policy,” she said.