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School Discipline: Corporal Punishment

MGN

MACON, Ga. -- If it’s been 20 years or more since you were in school, chances are discipline has changed a lot.

The days of giant wooden paddles and the sound of loud smacks echoing down the hall are gone. But some Middle Georgia school systems do still rely on corporal punishment.

As we continue our WGXA News investigation into school discipline, we focus on whether to spank or not to spank.

Our On Your Side investigative team looked at data from schools across Middle Georgia. While there is a trend toward less corporal punishment, the majority of the school systems in the area still use it.

These days, corporal punishment usually involves a smack with an open hand on the back-side, and some schools are moving away from it completely.

“Really, it's almost more about the sound. It's not so much about the spanking itself,” said East Laurens Primary School Principal Sherri Moorman, as she claps her hands lightly to demonstrate. “And lots of times if you ever have to give a child one lick they won't ever come back to the office again.”

The majority of the students at East Laurens Primary avoid ever getting into trouble, but it’s made clear to each one that if they ever do spanking may be an option.

Parents can sign a form opting their children out of corporal punishment, and principals call a child's parents before spanking. But Laurens County Superintendent Juli Alligood said often it's the parents that encourage that option.

“Principals say or will ask, ‘How do you prefer that I handle this? Do you want in-school suspension or would you prefer that the student miss recess time or what not?’ And often-times parents will often bring up the option of corporal punishment as an alternative so I would say parents for the most part are really the ones who advocate that," Alligood said.

Out of the 29 Middle Georgia schools we checked, 18 used corporal punishment last school year leaving 11 that did not, although Crawford County only used it once.

When we broke it down into corporal punishment reports per student enrolled as a way to account for differences in district size, the top systems were:

1. Wilcox County: 191 reports in a system with 1,212 students.
2. Treutlen County: 140 reports in a system with 1,178 students
3. Laurens County: 585 reports of corporal punishment--the most in the area, but it is also the largest <iddle Georgia system to use that form of discipline with just under 6,500 students enrolled. So from a percentage standpoint, they ranked third in the schools we researched.

Bibb, Houston, Baldwin, Jones and seven other Middle Georgia counties reported no instances of using corporal punishment.

So what do schools do for discipline when they don't spank?

We went to Macon's Porter Elementary school to find out. Principal Cami Hamlin said it starts by building positive relationships with students, and then asking questions and looking for answers if someone has a discipline problem.

“We believe that all kids are good, they just sometimes make bad choices so we just really need to give that feedback back to them so they can be successful,” she said.

It's part of a program called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS. Through it children are taught about how they're supposed to behave in different situations, and even rewarded for good behavior.

Janice Holmes has spent her entire 22-year teaching career at Porter and has seen the transition from spanking to PBIS.

“Personally, I think the lack of corporal punishment makes it a lot easier to maintain discipline in the classroom,” Holmes said. “A lot of times there may be things going on in a child's life at home where they're being extremely harsh on them, and relying on that corporal punishment is not the best route for them.”

“You know, a lot of people are surprised by kids doing well but I think it's just really important that you believe in kids and know that they can do it and support them through the difficulties so that they feel, 'I'm supported,' so when they are having a hard time they can get through it and get back on track," Hamlin added.

Laurens County, like many other school systems across the state, is now shifting to PBIS, but they say corporal punishment remains an important discipline tool.

“I think that the parents and the administrators working together with teachers and the student, I think by putting everyone in the room together to figure out just what works for each child is really the key to success in discipline," Alligood said.

Several school leaders we spoke with said that they believe removing corporal punishment also got rid of a potential legal liability for their school systems, because even with parental sign-off there are still situations where parents can get upset.

Next week, WGXA's On Your Side investigative team will take a closer look at suspension, and why some school systems are searching for alternatives.

See the charts below for school discipline numbers from across Georgia since 2013:


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