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.
“By policy, it's used as a last resort,” said Steve Lindley, spokesman for Putnam City Schools. “What's much more common in our classrooms is discipline that's positive in nature.”
Putnam City, like other districts, has a long list of discipline options that include behavior plans, detention, Saturday school and in-school and out-of-school suspensions.
“We have found that there are other methods of discipline that are probably as effective as corporal punishment,” said McCharen, who oversees a nine-school district with 5,500 students.
Kim McLaughlin, principal of Northridge Elementary School in the Putnam City district, is among administrators who believe discipline is better left to parents.
“As a parent, it's their place to discipline. But as a school, it's our place to teach,” she said. “To do that, we can't have students afraid that they're going to get a spanking.”
McLaughlin said kids usually misbehave because they want attention or want to escape their work. She encourages teachers to build relationships with students.
“I want to figure out what a student needs to change their behavior,” she said. “I want my teachers to give them positive attention rather than negative attention. Most of the time, they're used to getting attention by making bad choices.”
Steves attended Taft Middle School, where he said most of the male teachers possessed paddles made in wood shop.
“They would either give you detention or three swats,” he recalled. “Never more than three.”
Steves is among those who would like to see corporal punishment make a return.
“I think kids these days need some discipline, they need some rules,” he said. “I don't think a swat ever hurt anybody.”
Proposal would have eased rules
In February, an attempt was made by Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, to ease rules on corporal punishment under which it could be employed by teachers. Now in school districts that allow it, corporal punishment can be practiced only by administrators and only after parents give permission.
The amendment, which didn't pass, would have allowed any teacher in a school district to use corporal punishment if at the teacher's discretion it is needed “to maintain discipline and order in the classroom.”
Cox could not be reached for comment.
He has said an increasing number of school boards are outlawing corporal punishment and “taking away the power of the teacher if the teacher sees fit to use corporal punishment as a tool to maintain proper decorum and discipline in the classroom that leads to a good learning environment.”