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Missouri school district adopts opt-in corporal punishment policy

By Rebekah Riess and Eric Levenson, CNN

A school district in southwest Missouri adopted an opt-in policy this school year allowing corporal punishment of students “only in reasonable form” and when “all other alternative means of discipline have failed,” according to the district’s website.

The district did not clarify how it defines “reasonable,” though the school handbook states the punishment will be administered “only by swatting buttocks with a paddle.”

The policy was adopted by the Cassville R-IV School District in mid-June and defines corporal punishment as “the use of physical force as a method of correcting student behavior.” The district’s school board voted to permit corporal punishment “as a measure of correction or of maintaining discipline and order” in its schools.

The decision to bring back the old-school punishment came out of a survey sent out to staff, students, and parents in May, Cassville Superintendent Merlyn Johnson said, according to CNN affiliate KYTV.

“One of the suggestions that came out was concerns about student discipline,” Johnson said. “So we reacted by implementing several different strategies, corporal punishment being one of them.

Though the method has fallen out of favor since the late 1970s, school corporal punishment as of six years ago was legal in 19 states, and over 160,000 children are subject to the punishment each year, according to a 2016 study published in the Society for Research in Child Development.

The Supreme Court’s 1977 decision Ingraham v. Wright ruled by a 5-4 vote that school corporal punishment was constitutional and did not constitute “cruel and unusual” punishment under the Eighth Amendment.

The 2016 study found that the states still using corporal punishment tend to be concentrated in the Southeast, led by Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama. According to data from the 2011-12 school year, 5,251 students in Missouri received corporal punishment, the study found. Further, Black children, boys and children with disabilities were disproportionately more likely to receive corporal punishment, the study found.

Where it is used, corporal punishment has not proved to be an effective strategy, according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology.

“The meta-analyses presented here found no evidence that spanking is associated with improved child behavior and rather found spanking to be associated with increased risk of 13 detrimental outcomes,” the authors wrote. “Parents who use spanking, practitioners who recommend it, and policymakers who allow it might reconsider doing so given that there is no evidence that spanking does any good for children and all evidence points to the risk of it doing harm.”

Despite that, the Cassville R-IV School District said parents and guardians who want corporal punishment for their student have to submit a form to opt-in to the policy, and a parent or guardian has to be notified before a student is subjected to the punishment upon the recommendation of the principal.

The policy outlines that the punishment can only be administered by “certified personnel” and in the presence of a district employee witness. It also outlines that there “can be no chance of bodily injury or harm” to the student and that “striking a student on the head or face is not permitted.”

A report explaining the reason for the use of corporal punishment, with the details of its administration, then has to be submitted to Johnson, according to the policy.

Additionally, the policy states that “a staff member may use reasonable physical force against a student for the protection of the student or other persons or to protect property.”

When reached for comment, district communications coordinator Mindi Artherton referred CNN to the policy’s text on the district’s website and responded only by saying, “At this time we will focus on educating our students.”

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