A bill banning corporal punishment in Kentucky schools recently got a thorough hearing by a panel of lawmakers who showed plenty of support, but it’s unclear whether the legislation will come to a vote in the 2019 General Assembly.
Seventeen school districts in Kentucky still permit students to be paddled or spanked. In 2017-18 there were 452 reported incidents in the state, up from 334 the year before.
Discussion on House Bill 202 was heard at the House Education Committee meeting on Feb. 20, but a vote was not scheduled. After the testimony, Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, asked chair Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg, if lawmakers would have a chance to vote on House Bill 202 in the 2019 session. The session is scheduled to end March 30.
Huff replied, “It is a short session, but we can make changes (to the bill) and see what we can do.”
Rep. R. Travis Brenda, R-Cartersville, said during the meeting that he supported the legislation but he had a concern on wording in the bill. He wanted to make sure that a coach who required students to run an extra lap would not be accused of implementing corporal punishment.
State Rep. Steve Riley, R-Glasgow, the bill’s sponsor, said he would change the language.
Similar bills introduced in 2017 and 2018 were unsuccessful.
Riley and former state lawmaker Jim Wayne, who introduced the legislation in 2017, said Friday that the bill has more support and they believe it will be approved in the General Assembly if it gets a vote before the House Education committee.
Rep. Tina Bojanowski, D-Louisville, a member of the committee, said at the hearing that she was paddled in 10th grade for cutting in the lunch line and “I was shocked to know that it does still happen today.” She said she supported the bill.
Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, said that allowing teachers to hit students is at odds with Senate Bill 1, a comprehensive bill aimed at making Kentucky schools safer. The House Education committee approved Senate Bill 1 just before hearing testimony on the anti-paddling legislation. Lawmakers from the House and Senate say Senate Bill 1 is a top priority.
Alex Young, a freshman at the private Catholic St. Xavier High School in Louisville, and other students were successful in getting similar anti-paddling legislation passed at Kentucky Youth Assembly, a YMCA model government program.
“Students can easily be abused” within the current law, Alex said, and corporal punishment opens the door for lawsuits against school officials.
Under House Bill 202, corporal punishment is defined as the deliberate infliction of physical pain on a student by any means intended to punish or discipline the student, including but not limited to paddling, shaking, or spanking;. It does not include spontaneous physical contact intended to protect a child from immediate danger.
Under the legislation, school district employees, nonfaculty coaches, and nonfaculty assistants shall not use corporal punishment on any student.
Kentucky is one of 19 states that currently allows corporal punishment in its schools. Each school district makes its own decision about the practice and Fayette County does not allow it.
Clinton County Schools reported the second highest number of corporal punishment incidents in 2017-18 at Kentucky schools at 128. Clinton. Superintendent Charlotte Nasief on Friday attributed the high number to a change in administrative staff at one of the schools. Bell County Schools reported the highest number for that year at 129. Superintendent Yvonne Gilliam told the Herald-Leader in 2018 that she did not mandate corporal punishment but she did not want to lose it as a disciplinary option.
Other school districts that allow corporal punishment are Caldwell, Bath, Fleming, Fulton, Fulton Independent, Harlan, Johnson, Monroe, Perry, Pike, Pulaski, Raceland-Worthington, Robertson, Wayne and Whitley.
Alex said discipline was important, but there are much better approaches that don’t put student safety at risk.
Elizabeth George, another high school student who has been studying the use of corporal punishment in Kentucky schools, asked lawmakers how they would feel if their child or grandchild were paddled at school.
She said she learned through a survey in Eastern Kentucky of one student who was paddled after merely being accused of cursing which she said depicted “the cruelty and impulsiveness of this practice.”
Charlie Gardner, also a freshman at St. Xavier, advocated at the meeting for alternative disciplinary methods such as community service or restorative justice, which he said focuses on how a student’s actions affect others.
Riley said when a child is subjected to corporal punishment at school, “they don’t believe that you care about them, they don’t believe that you’re trying to make their lives better, they believe that you don’t like them.”
“We need to look at changing behavior and not be involved in the constant punishment of our students,” said Riley, who is among the current and former educators on the legislative panel. “I think it’s past time that Kentucky deal with this issue. It only takes one administrator to decide that’s what they are going to do over and over again to create a situation that’s not in the best interest of students, the school district or that person.”