HOUMA, La. - The Terrebonne Parish School Board voted last week to eliminate its policies for corporal punishment, removing the last vestiges of the practice from the Houma-Thibodaux area.
Corporal punishment is the disciplinary tactic of using pain — paddling, spanking, etc. — to discourage behavior.
School officials say the move is largely procedural — schools stopped actually using corporal punishment years ago, so the board simply eliminated the policy.
“We decided a long time ago that corporal punishment is something that, if it is used, should be done by a parent,” said Superintendent Philip Martin. “It sends a lot of bad signals to kids about school.”
Lafourche moved to eliminate its policies last year, said spokesman Floyd Benoit.
“We got rid of our policy on that about a year ago, but we haven’t actually done it for years,” Benoit said.
The Houma-Thibodaux Diocese’s schools also haven’t used corporal punishment for “a very long time,” Superintendent Marian Fertitta said.
Corporal punishment is on the decline nationally. Whereas it was once nearly universal, only 19 states now allow paddling in schools, according to the Center for Effective Discipline.
Most developed nations also ban the practice.
The punishment’s popularity has decreased as experts increasingly disapprove. Many child psychologists and psychiatrists oppose corporal punishment, saying the practice can disrupt children’s development and set a bad example.
Most organizations for both types of experts officially condemn the practice. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, for example, has opposed it since 1988.
“Corporal punishment signals to the child that a way to settle interpersonal conflicts is to use physical force and inflict pain. Such children may in turn resort to such behavior themselves,” a policy statement by the academy says. “Supervising adults who will fully humiliate children and punish by force and pain are often causing more harm than they prevent.”
Those experts also say corporal punishment doesn’t necessarily even work. Martin, who once administered corporal punishment himself as a principal, said that’s been his experience.
“I came to the conclusion on my own that this simply does not work,” Martin said. “In terms of impacting behavior, I found it really didn’t.”
Martin said the school’s disciplinary records don’t show an increase in suspensions or expulsions after schools stopped paddling students. If anything, the number has decreased over the years.
Benoit also pointed out that the school board started facing an increasing number of lawsuits from angry parents before corporal punishment was stopped.
“With all the lawsuits we were getting, we decided it would be best if we turned toward alternate ways of doing discipline,” Benoit said.
Still, many local residents say corporal punishment is a necessary way of keeping kids in line. They argue schools suffer because of unruly students who disrupt class.
“Paddling worked for years to get children in line who might not have good guidance at home,” wrote Judson Smith on Facebook. “Paddling worked when parents didn’t.”
Some parents think other, less intense disciplinary measures, like suspension or detention, aren’t as effective.
“That’s a big problem with today’s youth. They act up and do whatever in school because all they’ll get is suspended or detention,” wrote Steve Detiveaux. “While I never received a paddling in school, I remember hearing kids in the hall get one, and that was enough right there to keep me out of trouble.”
Other parents said they’re not opposed to corporal punishment, but they don’t think the schools should be responsible for administering it.
“I don’t think it’s the school’s place to hit a child; it’s a parenting issue,” wrote Melissa Lirette. “I always told the school the same thing most parents tell schools: if my child is misbehaving at school, contact me and I will discipline him.”
Others say they’re against corporal punishment altogether.
“I’m sorry, but physical punishment has no place in a school,” wrote Justin Ward. “It’s barbaric, and it serves no purpose other than to teach children that the most effective way to get what you want is to physically attack someone until you get it.”
Staff Writer Matthew Albright can be reached at 448-7635 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.