Teachers and staff will now be able to discipline students with “physical force” as a “last resort.”
A Missouri school district has authorized the use of corporal punishment as a “last resort” in order to discipline students.
Cassville R-IV School District, located in southwest Missouri, issued a new policy that permits certified individuals to “use physical force as a method of correcting student behavior” and in order to maintain “discipline and order in schools.”
The policy was issued in June, according to the Missouri School Boards’ Association Board Policy Manual, which is available online. The policy does not indicate what would make a teacher or school staff member “certified” to use physical force to punish a child.
A reported 19 states allow corporal punishment in school, according to one 2018 study, making more than 160,000 students subject to physical forms of punishment each school year.
According to the policy, corporal punishment can only be used after “all other alternative means of discipline have failed” and only “upon the recommendation of the principal.” Using corporal punishment as a form of discipline “should never be inflicted in the presence of other students,” the policy states, and must be administered “in the presence of a witness who is also an employee.”
The policy goes on to state that corporal punishment will be administered “so that there can be no chance of bodily injury or harm,” adding that “striking a student on the head or face is not permitted.”
If corporal punishment is used in the Cassville School district, the new policy requires that the teacher or principal submit a report to the superintendent “explaining the reason” for using this new form of student discipline.
Cassville Superintendent Dr. Merlyn Johnson told local news outlet KY3 that the policy was enacted as the result of a staff, student and parent survey conducted in May.
“One of the suggestions that came out was concerns about student discipline,” Johnson told the outlet. “So we reacted by implementing several different strategies, corporal punishment being one of them.”
He went on to say at the time that the new policy is not something administrators “anticipate using frequently,” citing the “opt-in only option” for parents should they take issue with the new disciplinary rule.
“Anyone who disagrees with corporal punishment, they simply do nothing by not opting in,” Johnson added.
Dr. Elise N. Feldman, a licensed psychologist who has worked with children, adolescents and adults for more than 15 years, says the “problem with corporal punishment” is that “children express their emotions behaviorally” and that “only through the process of social and emotional learning do they begin to express their emotions with words and begin to cope with them.”
“A lot of the time, behavioral problems that are happening in grade school and elementary school are indications of a child in emotional distress (and) who isn’t getting the support they need at home,” Feldman told TODAY Parents. “So to respond to a child who needs help with increased distress is creating or adding to or exacerbating the problem. It’s not helping, and what corporal punishment does — if it does anything that might appear helpful — is teach a child to bottle in their feelings and submit to authority, not to cope with them.”
Feldman says that corporal punishment can create problems in both the short and the long term, especially at a time when children and adolescents are experiencing higher rates of depression and anxiety as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“There’s been an increase in the use of corporal punishment at home, and an increase in cases of abuse and neglect inside the home,” she added. “To add in more corporal punishment in schools at the same time is just exacerbating the problem for children who are in these situations that are in need of help.”
According to the American Psychological Association, numerous studies have shown that the use of corporal punishment leads to “increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury and mental health problems for children.”
TODAY Parents reached out to Johnson for comment. The superintendent replied via email, writing that the administration’s policies “can be found online” and that they have “provided interviews with multiple media outlets.”
“At this time we will focus on educating our students,” he added. “Thank you for your interest in the Cassville R-IV School District.”
KY3 spoke to two Missouri parents with opposing views on the new disciplinary policy.
Kimberly Richardson told the outlet she would “prefer the district continue with the other forms of discipline.”
“Like in-school suspension, that would be fine with me,” she said. “Or even out-of-school suspensions. Those are just way better than corporal punishment.”
Dylan Burns, another Missouri parent, told KY3 he didn’t “see a problem with corporal punishment,” arguing it’s a parent’s right to choose.
”No matter what you choose, I think you need to sit down with your kids and choose what’s best for you and your family,” the father told the outlet. “Trust that everyone there at Cassville is not going to do anything that you don’t want done to your child.”
Feldman says that instead of using corporal punishment to discipline a child, she encourages parents, teachers, school staff and caregivers to be “curious.”
“If I’m working with a child or I see a child who is behaving in a way where other punishments haven’t worked, then they are clearly dysregulated and not acting in their best interest,” she explained. “That is a big red flag that this child is in need of help.”
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