Bringing Schools Up to the Standards of Prisons

Over two hundred thousand kids are punished in US schools each year by
being paddled. One in five of them has a disability. No child should be
paddled in school but it is hard to imagine anything more outrageous
than paddling or hitting children because of their disability -- and
that is what is happening: Children with autism, attention deficit
disorder or Tourettes syndrome, for example, are punished for the
behaviors caused by those conditions.

On April 15, Representative Carolyn McCarthy of New York, who chairs the
Healthy Families and Communities Subcommittee of the Education and Labor
Committee, called for an end to corporal punishment, still legal in 20
states. Passing such a law would bring the US in compliance with
international legal standards that prohibit cruel, inhuman, or degrading
treatment, regardless of circumstance. These standards are reflected in
instruments such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the UN
Convention Against Torture, the latter of which the US is a party to.

Who would do this to children, and why? Testimony from Rep. McCarthy's
hearing suggests that corporal punishment is most frequently used in the
South. Even there, it is far from universal. It is outlawed in many
school districts, particularly larger and more urban districts. But it
persists, with officials justifying that physical punishment is
necessary to address "rising disrespect" among youth. This includes
showing up late for class, violating the dress code or disrupting class.

Too often, students with disabilities are the casualty of these
policies. Because of their disabilities, they will sometimes disrupt
class, often unintentionally. For these students, the threat of
corporal punishment creates a hostile learning environment and a culture
of fear. One mother quoted in a report by Human Rights Watch and the
ACLU, Impairing Education, spoke about her son with autism and how
paddling affected him. "The next day, I tried to take him to school,
but I couldn't even get him out of the house. He was scared of going
over there, scared it would happen again...We carried him out of the
house, he was screaming...Now he has these meltdowns all the time. He
can't focus, he cries."

Many schools are already ill-equipped to support students with
disabilities such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and
autism, and allowing corporal punishment only compounds the difficulties
that these students already face. Evidence from the hearing suggests
that the majority of research leads to the conclusion that corporal
punishment is an "ineffective method of discipline and has major
deleterious effects on the physical and mental health of those on whom
it is inflicted."

For students who misbehave, the evidence suggests that use of a
technique called "Positive Behavioral Support" is far more effective.
This includes talking to students about how they are behaving, setting
up incentives and supports for better behavior, and creating
individualized interactions tailored to meet the specific needs of
students, both those with and without disabilities. This strategy
parallels what child psychology experts refer to as
"authoritative-reciprocal" parenting, an approach that is neither
authoritarian nor permissive, but instead relies on dialogue and is
based on mutual respect.

Corporal punishment against children with disabilities is child abuse,
and it should be stopped. Rep. McCarthy's initiative to put an end to
this inhumane treatment of children in school is overdue and should get
wide support from all who agree that hitting any child is wrong, and
hitting children with disabilities simply for being disabled, is
criminal. Corporal punishment is not allowed in US prisons, it should
not be allowed in US schools.

For more information, see:
HRW-ACLU report: Impairing Education, Corporal Punishment of Students with Disabilities in US Public Schools

United States International Council on Disabilities