Discipline in schools: What you should know about corporal punishment

The practice of striking students in public schools has been banned in most states, but some still use corporal punishment as a form of discipline.

Corporal punishment uses physical force to cause a child to experience pain to correct misbehavior. In school districts where corporal punishment is legal, a teacher or administrator can use a large wooden board, or paddle, to strike a child’s buttocks as a form of discipline.

In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its Ingraham v. Wright decision that school corporal punishment was constitutional. This ruling left the states to decide whether to allow the practice. As of 2022, nineteen states allow public school personnel to use corporal punishment to discipline children from the time they start preschool until they graduate 12th grade.

According to a study on corporal punishment by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, some school districts specify the exact dimensions of the paddles to be used. For instance, the Board of Education in Pickens County, Alabama, recommended that schools use a “wooden paddle approximately 24 inches in length, 3 inches wide and ½ inch thick” that does not have holes, cracks, splinters, tape or other foreign material.

School corporal punishment has been steadily declining since the late 1970s, decreasing from 4% of all school children in 1978 to less than 0.5% as of 2018.

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The study also said that “states that allow corporal punishment have a greater percentage of children in the general population, higher rates of child poverty and child mortality, lower college graduation rates, and lower per-pupil education expenditures than states that have banned school corporal punishment.”

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, corporal punishment is used more often in Southern states. Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas account for over 70% of all corporal punishments given at U.S. public schools.

The states that allow corporal punishment include: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

New Mexico was the most recent state to ban the practice in 2011.

The disciplinary practice is legal in private schools in every state except New Jersey and Iowa.

According to The Conversation, corporal punishment has been banned in 128 countries, including Canada and New Zealand.