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Why is corporal punishment still used in public schools?

The practice is legal in the U.S., although 31 states have banned it.

ATLANTA — Corporal punishment in schools is controversial but legal in the United States, and Congressional proposals to ban the practice have gone nowhere.

Parents are putting away the belts and switches. Spankings are not as common as they once were.

In fact, a survey published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association found about a third of all parents use corporal punishment to discipline their children, a sharp drop from years before.

“There’s an abundance of evidence that shows that practice is ineffective and harmful to children,” says Mike Tafelsky of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Nineteen U.S. states, including Georgia, allow corporal punishment in schools.

 In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporal punishment in schools does not violate the Constitution.

“In that it didn’t violate a student’s 8th Amendment right to prevent cruel and unusual punishment,” says Tafelsky, an expert in education law.

The practice is banned in 31 U.S. states.

Tafelsky says states that allow it have laws that restrict it.

“If they do, they need to have a written policy that they should not engage in excessive use of corporal punishment, excessive or unduly severe,” says Tafelsky.

Georgia’s law states that corporal punishment should never be the first choice and it allows parents to forbid it.

According to the Georgia Department of Education, there were 4,755 spankings in Georgia schools in 2019, almost exclusively in rural areas.

It happened 60 times in Heard County west of Atlanta. Superintendent Rodney Kay says corporal punishment is not for every circumstance, but parents sometimes request it in lieu of a suspension that would keep their child out of class.

“We don’t administer it as a consequence for bad behavior or a violation of school rules,” Kay explained in a statement. “There are times when students and/or parents request corporal punishment in lieu of traditional consequences, and the school system will honor that request if the parent signs a consent form.”

Congress is considering a bill to ban the practice nationwide.

“I think the issue we see a lot is that districts don’t know about alternative practices,” says Tafelsky.

A bill introduced in the House of Representatives in 2019 went nowhere. There’s been no action on a similar bill introduced earlier this year.