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Paddling becomes rare in Oklahoma schools as disciplinary tool

About 10 percent of Oklahoma's 518 school districts utilize corporal punishment, but most use it as a last resort, and only after consulting with parents first.
by Tim Willert Published: November 15, 2013

Gone but likely not forgotten by those on the receiving end are the days when the paddle ruled supreme in the classroom.

“If you got in trouble, you got a swat. If you did something serious, they took you to the principal,” recalled Jim Steves, 60, of Oklahoma City. “Unless it was a grievous offense, they would take care of it right then and there.”

Corporal punishment, once viewed as a viable option for teachers and administrators to punish students, has lost favor among districts that still recognize it as a form of discipline.

About 10 percent of Oklahoma's 518 school districts utilize corporal punishment, but most use it as a last resort and only after consulting with parents first.

“It's just something that the majority of parents don't want to happen to their children anymore,” said Jim McCharen, Choctaw-Nicoma Public Schools superintendent. “I think times have changed, and most parents don't support that.”

The threat of legal action along with the emergence of other more acceptable forms of discipline, such as detention and suspension, are among the reasons given by Oklahoma City-area administrators for the drop-off in spanking and paddling.

“We advise districts to use an abundance of caution if they want to include corporal punishment as an option for administrators to use when disciplining kids,” said Julie Miller, deputy executive director and general counsel for the Oklahoma State School Board Association.

“These principals work too hard to get that certificate to lose it because of a child abuse conviction,” Miller added. “It's a risk to the individual employees if they administer it because you have no idea how a child is going to react to the punishment.”

‘A last resort'

Corporal punishment remains a legal form of discipline in 19 states, including Oklahoma, according to the Center for Effective Discipline, a nonprofit based in Columbus, Ohio.

No federal policy exists on corporal punishment in schools. In Oklahoma, corporal punishment is left up to each district. The state Department of Education does not track the practice, a spokesman said Thursday.

While districts in Oklahoma City, Choctaw-Nicoma Park, Edmond and Moore do not allow corporal punishment, those in Putnam City, Bethany, Little Axe and Washington recognize it as a means of discipline but use it sparingly.

“It's just not used a whole lot,” said A.J. Brewer, superintendent of Washington Public Schools.

Times have changed, said Brewer, a veteran educator with nearly four decades of teaching and coaching experience.

“Years ago it was a little different,” he recalled. “It was certainly used more widely.”

Putnam City officials reported one instance of corporal punishment during the 2009-2010 school year, none in 2010-2011 and one in 2011-2012.

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by Tim Willert
Education Reporter
Tim Willert is a native Californian with Oklahoma ties who covers education. Prior to moving to Oklahoma in June 2011, he was as an editor for in Century City, Calif., and reported on courts for the Los Angeles Daily Journal and...
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