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It's time to retire educators' paddle

July 12, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

The disciplinary methods used in schools 40 or 50 years ago are remembered with some nostalgia today, even by some who got a taste of the teacher's paddle. It was simple justice, administered quickly, and the worst consequence for the offending student was usually injured pride.

But that was before the United States became the lawsuit-happy nation that it is now. That's why we support the Pennsylvania State Board of Education's proposal to ban corporal punlishment statewide.

Pennsylvania isn't alone in holding on to corporal punishment as a disciplinary option. Another 22 states also allow it in some form or another. In Pennsylvania, however, students can't be paddled if parents tell the school they object to it.

All right, let's assume that parents don't object and even give the school the okay to paddle their child. Then the paddling takes place and the parents claim that they were misled about what was involved. Does anyone doubt that there's a lawyer out there who would take the case - and claim the child was permanently traumatized by the incident?

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We're not talking about a widely used disciplinary device. For the 1997-98 school year, the last one for which figures are available, the state's 501 school districts only used physical discipline on 90 students - less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the state's enrollment. And the state board's new proposal would still give school officials the okay to use "reasonable force" in self-defense or to restrain a student.

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association has expressed reservations about the proposed ban, saying the change should be made by legislation instead of by regulation.

That would allow lawmakers who should concentrate on other matters - like the state's budget, for example - to waste time posturing on this issue. The bottom line is that children who are so out of control that they need to be physically disciplined don't belong in a regular school, but in an alternative institution that specializes in dealing with behavior problems.

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