Missouri School District Reinstates Paddling to Discipline Students

School paddle
Wooden school paddle.Getty Stock

Spanking would only be done as a last resort, the school board said, and only with permission from the parent.

A Missouri school district has revived corporal punishment of students as "a last resort" and only with the permission of parents.

The Cassville R-IV School District began classes for its 1,900 students last week, and informed parents that spanking students, which was abandoned in 2001, had been reinstated following a June decision by the school board.

The punishment would allow certified individuals to "use physical force as a method of correcting student behavior" to maintain "discipline and order in schools," according to the policy, which has been posted online by the board.

Parents have the option to agree with the punishment, or to opt out, the board said. During a recent open house, families were given forms to fill out that specified whether they authorized the school to use a paddle on their child.

Corporal punishment would be used only after "all other alternative means of discipline have failed" the policy said, and only "upon the recommendation of the principal." Spanking "should never be inflicted in the presence of other students," and must be carried out "in the presence of a witness who is also an employee."

Reactions from parents were mixed, with some strenuously objecting to their children being hit with a wooden paddle, to others saying physical punishment as a last resort was a suitable disciplinary measure.

Missouri mother Miranda Kraft Smith told Inside Edition Digital Monday that she isn't opposed to spanking, but thinks it should not be done at school by school employees.

"I do not believe that other people, teachers, counselors, or principals, should be putting their hands on our children," she said.

"If my child has done something wrong, they have tools they can use for discipline at school, and if we decide at home that a spanking is what is needed, then that is up to us," the mother said.

Merlyn Johnson said he did assume the position of Cassville school superintendent one year ago with the intention of reinstating corporal punishment.

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

Parents had approached school officials about bringing back physical punishment, the superintendent said.

"Parents have said 'Why can't you paddle my student?' and we're like 'We can't paddle your student, our policy does not support that,'" Johnson told the local paper.  "There had been conversation with parents and there had been requests from parents for us to look into it."

District spokeswoman Mindi Atherton declined to answer questions from Inside Edition Digital Monday. "We have done several interviews," she said when reached by phone. "We are just focusing on bringing our kids back."

The policy states that paddling would be used with "no chance of bodily injury or harm," and that "striking a student on the head or face is not permitted." 

An estimated 19 states still use paddling, usually administered with a wooden paddle on the buttocks of students. Those states include Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that physical punishment in schools does not violate the Constitution, and left decisions on whether to use it up to individual states.

The practice is highly controversial, with some child mental health experts decrying paddling as abusive, and asserting that striking a child only worsens anxiety and depression that may be affecting children with behavioral issues.

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