Spanking still allowed in Georgia, U.S. schools

Corporal punishment

To spank or not to spank: That debate is once again in the headlines.

The Tennessee Legislature on April 17 passed a bill that bans the spanking of disabled children at public schools.

If signed into law, the measure would bar school officials from using corporal punishment on kids with disabilities, unless their parents give written approval. A report released last month by the state comptroller’s office found that disabled children in Tennessee schools were getting spanked at a higher rate than other children.

Opponents of corporal punishment argue that bill doesn’t go far enough.

Many studies have shown that physical punishment — including spanking, hitting and other means of causing pain — can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury and mental health problems for children. According to the American Psychology Association, acceptance of physical punishment has declined since the 1960s, yet surveys show two-thirds of Americans still approve of parents spanking their kids.

In an article for APA, Alan Kazdin, a Yale University psychology professor and director of the Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic said, “You cannot punish out these behaviors that you do not want.”

In 1979, Sweden became the first country to ban by law the physical punishment of children. Many have urged the United States to follow suit. Although it is illegal in many states for teachers and other school staff to spank children, there are no laws prohibiting parents from spanking.

Georgia is among 23 states that allow some form of corporal punishment. An AJC analysis in 2013 found no traditional public school in metro Atlanta had paddled a child in years, but corporal punishment was still used in more than half of the state's 180 school districts.

Although individual districts have their own guidelines, paddling in Georgia public schools is allowed with certain restrictions.

Georgia corporal-punishment laws require that any physical punishment not be excessive or used as a first line of punishment. A student must be warned first. In other words, spanking or hitting cannot be the go-to method of punishment in the classroom. However, the use of force may be authorized as a first line punishment if the student’s acts are “so antisocial or disruptive in nature as to shock the conscience.”

For example, a teacher may use force to defend him or herself from a violent student or to prevent that student from hurting another person. Otherwise, corporal punishment must be administered in the presence of a principal, assistant principal, or another designated witness. A parent or guardian who does not approve of corporal punishment must provide a written statement from a physician stating that it would be detrimental to the child’s health.

Additionally, the statute directs local school boards to “determine and adopt penalties and regulations” on the proper use of corporal punishment by teachers and principals.

A worldwide movement is in place to end the practice in schools and in the home.

The effort, led by the United Nations International Children's Fund, has declared April 30 International No Spank Day. According to statistics published in November by UNICEF, close to 300 million children around the world age 2 to 4 receive some type of physical discipline from their parents or caregivers on a regular basis.

But that doesn’t mean parents want educators spanking their children.

A recent reader survey on asked if teachers should be allowed to hit students. Sixty-four percent of respondents said no.

“No, teachers teach. Only parents have the right to choose the type of discipline given to their child. A teacher is hired to teach children. Using violence to punish sends a message to children that violence is an acceptable way to behave and respond to others. Teachers are there to show children the correct and appropriate way to behave. School should be a safe environment for all children,” wrote one respondent.

Another respondent who thought it was a good idea wrote: “Kids these days have absolutely no discipline. I would know because I am a sophomore in high school. The kids are out of hand and extremely disrespectful. They need to be put in their place. If teachers were allowed to discipline their students, maybe our future generation of kids would be less stupid and would be more focused on success rather than social life.”

Education Notebook is a column from members of the AJC’s education team. Each week look for a deeper dive on timely discussion topics. Arlinda Smith Broady covers Gwinnett County education and special needs.