School Officials Split on Spanking in School

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WASHINGTON COUNTY Florida is one of only 19 states still allowing corporal punishment in schools.

Recent reports call the practice outdated and ineffective. But area school districts are split on spanking.

Principals like Steve Griffin of Vernon Elementary School have to deal with discipline issues everyday.

How they deal with punishing students is a topic that gets mixed reactions.

"Most of them just stand up to the desk and take the position and accept the punishment. Some cry. But the whole point of it is that they understand that there's a punishment or consequence for the choice that they made," Griffin explained.

He's had to spank about seven students this school year. A practice that is still allowed in 19 states across the U.S. and 28 counties in Florida, including Jackson, Gulf, and Holmes counties.

Just like states are split on spanking, so are parents.

"I think spanking children is necessary. I think that's how they know they're doing something wrong. Uhm. I think if you don't spank them, then they just think they can do anything that they wanna do," said Washington County Mom Chelsie Johnson.

"You hear so many things getting out of hand, you know, and personally i don't want anyone else touching my child like that. You know? I think that's a family matter, to handle at home," said Wendy McGhee, parent of a Chipley High School 9th Grader.

The practice involves bending a student over a desk, then swatting their buttock once or twice with a witness present.

But now more states and districts are eliminating the practice.

In 2010, around 216,000 kids across the US were spanked at school. Last year, 3,000 were spanked in Florida.

"The fear of it is more effective than anything else. You know, as far as behavior modification changes on how they perceive things, but also with the understanding that there's a very swift punishment coming that normally can change behavior," said Washington County Superintendent Joe Taylor.

But recent research from the Southern Poverty Law Center says the paddling punishment does more harm than good, increasing hostility and leading to anti-social behavior.

Now some districts, like Bay County, are outlawing the practice saying it could also lead to lawsuits.

"There is a measure of liability involved because it is a physical hands on punishment. One of the main keys to student success is about positive relationships between students and teachers. Corporal punishment is a negative, physical consequence that impacts that relationship in a negative way," said Bay County Director of Student Services Lee Stafford.

In October, Bay County was the latest district to officially eliminate spanking, even though they haven't used the practice in years.

"The better approach is to use positive behavior interventions to help children understand how to respect themselves and others," explained Stafford.

But schools that stand by spanking say it can be more effective than alternative punishments.

"We talk to our kids and basically treat them like our own kids and talk to them about what they did, asking them why they did it, and go through the process of trying to figure out why they did it," said Griffin.

In the end, all schools aim to stop bad behavior they just have different ways of getting to the root of the problem.

In most counties that allow spanking, parents can choose to opt out of the punishment.

Studies show its used more commonly in elementary schools, than middle or high schools.