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Missouri school district reinstates spanking as student punishment

A Missouri school board has reinstated the use of corporal punishment, allowing parents to opt their children in or out of the disciplinary measure. Getty Images

Parents can now opt-in to have their children potentially experience corporal punishment in a southwest Missouri school district.

Students in the Cassville R-IV School District, less than 25 kilometres from the Arkansas border, were notified of a new policy approved by the school board in June that reinstated spanking as a disciplinary measure.

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The policy defines corporal punishment as “the use of physical force as a method of correcting student behavior.”

Merlyn Johnson, Cassville school superintendent, told local news outlet Springfield News-Leader the disciplinary punishment will be carried out using a paddle.

The school district’s policy claims spanking “shall be used only when all other alternative means of discipline have failed, and then only in reasonable form and upon the recommendation of the principal.”

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Other students are forbidden from witnessing a peer being punished.

Spanking a student must be done in a way that uses “reasonable physical force” and guarantees “no chance of bodily injury or harm,” as per the policy. The guidelines for “reasonable physical force” are unclear, though striking a student on the head or face is not allowed.

Click to play video: 'Spanking your children may have a negative lasting effect – even 10 years later'
Spanking your children may have a negative lasting effect – even 10 years later

All instances of corporal punishment in the school district must be reported to the superintendent.

The decision to reinstate the highly controversial disciplinary action came as a result of an anonymous survey from the school’s parents, students and employees, Johnson told Springfield News-Leader.

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In the survey, student behavioural issues were reportedly identified as a high concern.

“We started generating ideas on what we could do and corporal punishment was one of the ideas,” Johnson told the news outlet.

Merlyn Johnson smiling in a suit and tie.
Merlyn Johnson, superintendent of the Cassville R-IV School District. Cassville R-IV School District.

Corporal punishment was instated along with two other actions: the creation of a Success Academy (which aids students who struggle in traditional classroom environments) and a ban on all cell phones, earbuds, Bluetooth headphones and smart watches in classrooms.

Parents can choose to opt-in or opt-out of having their children experience corporal punishment through a permission form that was distributed to families. Johnson did not know yet how many parents have allowed their children to be paddled.

He did, however, claim many parents have asked for paddling to be brought back.

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“We’ve had people actually thank us for it,” Johnson told Springfield News-Leader.

Much of the reaction outside of the school district (especially on social media) has been vocally against the new policy, with several people claiming the reinstating of corporal punishment is a step in the wrong direction.

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Johnson told Springfield News-Leader the opinions of those online did not align with the actual local community. “Surprisingly, those on social media would probably be appalled to hear us say these things but the majority of people that I’ve run into have been supportive,” he said.

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Corporal punishment has not been used in the Cassville school district since 2001, the outlet reported.

In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court decision Ingraham v. Wright declared the use of corporal punishment in schools a state-decided issue. There are 19 states where the disciplinary measure is legal in public schools, including Missouri.

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“My plan, when I came to Cassville, wasn’t to be known as the guy who brought corporal punishment back to Cassville,” Johnson told Springfield News-Leader. “I didn’t want that to be my legacy and I still don’t. But it is something that has happened on my watch and I’m OK with it.”

In Canada — because the Supreme Court banned corporal punishment of students in 2004 — paddling and spanking children in schools is illegal throughout the country.

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