Painful punishment a fading option for schools

Herald Staff Writer

Members of older generations who misbehaved in school may remember being asked to bend over for the paddle, but the practice of corporal punishment, though still allowed in Indiana schools, is now used rarely in the area.

Indiana is one of 19 states which still lists corporal punishment as an approved option for disciplining students. However, according to the Center for Effective Discipline, only about half of one percent of Indiana children received a spanking in school during the 2005-06 school year, the most recent year for which data was available.

That percentage in Dubois and Spencer counties is perhaps even lower, though several local districts keep the option of corporal punishment in their handbooks for extreme cases.

At Southwest Dubois Schools, corporal punishment is listed as a possible remedy for severe offenses which are also punishable by suspension or expulsion. Still, says Principal Al Mihajlovits, Southridge Middle School avoids the practice whenever possible.

“We do utilize paddling but in very unique cases. By no means is it one of our first options or something that we want to get into,” he said. “We understand the potential ramifications that go along with this so we recommend this only when we have exhausted our other discipline measures or if we feel that this will have a positive impact on the child.”

Mihajlovits said that in his more than 20 years as the middle school principal, he has seen the incidence of corporal punishment steadily decline, and now, only a couple students per year are recommended for that type of discipline. He said it can be a helpful last resort for severe misbehavior so the school does not have to remove the student from school.

“The worst-case scenario is to expel a child. If we can do anything and everything possible before we get to that point, we’ve done due diligence,” he said. “This (paddling) may be the only option that can get this child to turn around.”

He also said that a paddle is never used without the knowledge and consent of a parent.

“My policy has always been that parent contact is made first and the parent is given an option if they do not want their child paddled,” Mihajlovits explained. “I’ve been very fortunate to have a very good working relationship with parents. They value the reason why we’re making that suggestion.”

At Southridge High school, corporal punishment is allowed, but Principal Kelly Murphy says it has not been used in the eight years he has worked there.

Similarly, at North Spencer schools, corporal punishment can still be found on school documents, but its use is extremely rare. Superintendent Dan Scherry said using a paddle can cause disagreements between the schools and parents, and so corporal punishment is usually “not worth the fuss.”

“If a parent wants to use this disciplinary practice, we can send the child home,” Scherry said.
“Corporal punishment hasn’t been used at North Spencer, to my knowledge, in over 10 year.”

Northeast Dubois schools also allow the option of paddling, but Dubois Middle School Principal Ryan Case said he and his staff have not used the option in his three-semester tenure as school leader.

Corporal punishment is prohibited in Greater Jasper and Southeast Dubois schools. The Jasper corporation policy explicitly states that limited physical force may only be used on students to prevent a student from injuring himself or others, stop a student from damaging school property or to end the disruption of an educational function.

The policy also states that staff “shall not use force for the purpose of deterring or punishing misconduct.”

According to estimates from the federal Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, there were about 223,000 student paddlings in the 2005-06 school year, down from 457,754 a decade earlier.

Contact Claire Moorman.

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