“It has no place in the public schools of a modern nation. Tradition is not a justification for ignoring the facts or failing to take steps to protect the rights of children,” he said on a call with reporters Monday.
Laws in 15 states, mostly in the South, permit corporal punishment in schools; an additional seven states have no law expressly prohibiting it, King said.
(Other sources report that 19 states permit corporal punishment, either explicitly or by having no ban. There are loopholes in the laws in Maine, New Hampshire and South Dakota, though the Center for Effective Discipline reports those states outlawed the practice in 1975, 1983, and 1990, respectively.)
More than half the schools in Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama reported using corporal punishment at least once in the 2011–12 school year, according to a study published by the Society for Research in Child Development.
More than 110,000 students were subjected to corporal punishment during the 2013–14 school year, according to the department’s latest Civil Rights Data Collection. The vast majority — 80 percent — were boys, and more than one third were black, even though black children made up only 16 percent of total students. In some states that permitted corporal punishment, students with disabilities were more likely to be paddled or face other physical punishment than children without special needs, said King.
“These data shock the conscience,” he said.
Corporal punishment doesn’t work, King said. It makes children more aggressive and defiant in the short term, and over the long term it has been linked to substance abuse, mental health problems, impaired cognitive functions in young children and lower GPAs among high school students, he said.
King’s plea to state leaders followed an open letter released Monday from 80 organizations, led by the National Women’s Law Center, calling on federal, state and local policymakers to end corporal punishment in both public and private schools. Teachers unions, disability and civil rights activists, and medical groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics signed the letter.
“These sorts of severe discipline policies don’t work,” Fatima Goss Graves, senior vice president for program at the center, said on the call. “They leave students feeling unwelcome and unsafe at school, and the consequences are severe in terms of academic performance and beyond. We think we can do better.”
The advocacy groups noted in the letter that corporal punishment of adults has been banned in prisons and military training facilities. “Every state has animal cruelty laws that criminalize beating animals so long and hard that it causes injury — even while allowing students to be subject to corporal punishment,” they wrote.
King, too, noted that such actions inflicted on children would qualify as criminal assault or battery if experienced by an adult.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said on the call that states and districts have options. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, states can use federal dollars for restorative justice or other positive behavioral interventions, instead of corporal punishment.
“There is no earthly justification for paddling, caning or otherwise physically harming kids in schools,” Weingarten said. “It doesn’t actually matter who the education secretary [is] or what people’s view is about the election. This is a moral matter.”
King wouldn’t offer an opinion about potential efforts to end the practice under President-elect Donald Trump.
“We can’t speculate on the priorities or policies of the next administration, but certainly the evidence here is very clear on what’s in the best interest of students, and that’s for states that have corporal punishment in place now to end that practice,” he said.