MOUNT VERNON — One of the statutes moving through the state legislature is HB 26, which prohibits corporal punishment in all public and chartered nonpublic schools in Ohio. It has been informally passed out of the House Education Committee and referred to subcommittee.
Although the law states that school employees may use reasonable force and restraint to prevent physical injury, to obtain possession of weapons or other dangerous objects, for self-defense or to protect persons or property, they may not use corporal punishment as a means of discipline.
Retired teacher Martha Stull supports passage of the legislation. She taught elementary pupils at Smithville in Wayne County, then in the East Knox district, and thinks educators should correct inappropriate behavior in ways other than paddling.
“I can truthfully say I never really spanked a child,” the 89-year-old Stull said. “I think, with younger children especially, the key to them liking school and wanting to do their best is to get them to like you and respect you as a teacher. We also tried to teach them other things: Not to laugh at somebody else, to be thankful and appreciative, and to tell people thank you; to be polite, don’t push and shove to take your turn.
“You can have good discipline by giving praises, getting them to feel good about themselves and just loving them,” the 32-year veteran educator continued. “Every time they did a paper I would write notes on them and find something good to tell them every day. And I would give them a hug every evening when they left to go home on the bus. I don’t know if [teachers] are allowed to do that any more.”
Stull told of one instance where a parent used physical means of correction when working with his child on math homework. She recalls reaching to put her arm around the girl to help her with the homework in class, and the girl flinched. Stull said to the girl, “Honey, did you think I was going to hit you, or what?” The girl said yes.
“Who could get a problem right if you thought someone was going to hit you?” asked Stull.
Although the current law concerning corporal punishment allows local school boards to decide whether it is permissible in their district, it is not a common practice.
“Corporal punishment in schools has pretty much been eliminated,” said North Fork Superintendent Scott Hartley. “I know our district for one still has a policy for corporal punishment; however, as long as I have been in the district, the policy has yet to be used.”
“Corporal punishment has not been a practice in Fredericktown Schools for nearly 20 years,” said Superintendent Dan Humphrey. “Our board policy is explicit that this is not condoned by the board, and staff members are not to use any form of excessive force to discipline a student.”
Retired middle school teacher Marilyn Yeager, 73, isn’t a big fan of corporal punishment, but she thinks the option should be left up to the local school boards.
“With principal’s OK before anything is done,” she explained. “That makes sure the teacher is not angry [when administering the punishment.] You also have to make sure the parent is notified, and make sure the kid knows what he should not have done. You have to follow those steps; you just can’t go around swinging a paddle.
“You must give teachers some room to discipline,” she continued. “Kids are like a bunch of horses that are all hitched up — if you let the reins loose, if you don’t hold them back, the kids will run away with you and your class. ... Students cannot rule.”
Yeager said she used corporal punishment only three or four times in her 30-year career as a teacher in Columbus and Mount Vernon, and tried every other means of correction before administering one swat only.
“I myself do not believe in paddling two or three or more licks,” she said. “No, no, no. There’s so many other ways. I hated to swat a child of any age. But, as a last resort, I would, [after following the steps mentioned above.]”
Yeager said she also had another teacher with her. Both would talk with the child as to why he was getting “the swat,” and discussed alternative actions the child could have taken to avoid “the swat.”
When she was a second-grader in Columbus, Yeager said, she got “whopped” once for inadvertently not following her teacher’s directions. The attitude then, she said, was, “The teacher is right.”
“The children today have gotten harder to handle,” said Yeager. “I find nowadays with both parents working, they have absolutely no time for their children, and that’s especially true of single parents. They just don’t have the time; children are not disciplined within the home as much. Discipline and morals and anything that is right is left up to the teacher to teach, plus all the subjects. The teacher is just overloaded with all the things. ... Kids need to know how to behave as much as they need to learn the subjects. The teacher and the parents have got to work together.”