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Should school kids be paddled?

One of the most controversial topics in education is whether or not kids should be paddled in school as a form of discipline. (abc3340.com)

One of the most controversial topics in education is whether or not kids should be paddled in school as a form of discipline.

Alabama ranks third in the nation for most students paddled—behind Mississippi and Texas.

Nearly 19,000 kids were paddled in Alabama schools during the 2013 and 2014 school year. That’s according to the U.S Department of Education.

Alabama is one of 19 states that allows paddling in public schools. But is it the right thing to do?

One Selma school paddled nearly 65 percent of its students

We traveled to Selma, Alabama. Population: Less than 20,000 people.

This city is best known for its place in civil rights history. But these days, it could also be known as the Paddling Capital of Alabama.

That’s because the R.B. Hudson Middle School, which used to be called Selma Middle CHAT Academy, had the highest percentage of students paddled in Alabama during the 2013-14 school year. That’s according to the most recent U.S. Department of Education statistics.

Nearly 65 percent of the 7th and 8th graders at this school were spanked with a paddle for disciplinary reasons. That’s a higher percentage than any other school in Alabama.

Parents of students at the school didn’t want to talk on camera about this hot-button issue.

But off-camera, they had mixed opinions on school paddling. As for the principal, LaShonda Morer, she didn’t return repeated phone calls.

Mixed opinions

On the streets of Selma, opinions vary about school paddling.

Harry Saulsberry has two kids. He’s engaged to Betty Thompson who has four kids. They are a house divided because they have opposing views on school paddling.

“Sometimes it takes that to get their attention,” Saulsberry told ABC 33/40 News Investigates. “They know that they’re going to get paddled, then they’ll be in line and they’ll be disciplined to that. They won’t do the wrong thing.”

“When my kids were in school, I sent a note to school saying no spanking, because I did the spanking at home,” Thompson said.

What the research shows

Recent national research on corporal punishment in schools uncovered some interesting facts.

In Alabama and Mississippi, African American children are more likely to be paddled than white children in over half of school districts. That’s according to a study released last month by the Society for Research in Child Development.

The author of the study says that doesn’t mean there’s discrimination. But it does mean paddling is more prevalent in predominately African American schools.

Meantime, more than 30 organizations oppose corporal punishment in schools, including the American Psychological Association. The association wrote in 2012 that many studies have shown that spanking, hitting and other means of causing pain, can lead to increased aggression, anti-social behavior, physical injury and mental health problems for children.

“On average, it is not the most effective way to curb behavior,” said Josh Klapow, Ph.D., a UAB clinical psychologist. “School administrators, school systems, and parents have to realize that the margin for error—the opportunity to do this wrong—and when I say do it wrong, meaning it’s not effective, and the opportunity to potentially harm a child both psychologically and physically — is very high.”

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of public schools to administer corporal punishment nearly 40 years ago.

Alabama law allowed for paddling in 1995. It prohibits excessive force and cruel and unusual punishment. The state law directs local school boards to adopt their own codes of conduct and procedures.

In the meantime, Alabama State Superintendent of Education Michael Sentence—who came here from Massachusetts which doesn’t allow paddling—has no plans to lead the charge to change the law here in Alabama.

He says if you don’t like paddling, take it up with your local school board.



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