Battle to Save Corporal Punishment In New Orleans Catholic School

Do you get the feeling the bad old days are coming back? U.S. economy has returned us to 1930s-style levels of unemployment, evil Republicans like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are trying to recreate the poverty of those years by removing the social safety net, and Republicans are working as hard as they can to make sure women have no control over their bodies or their lives.

Now we have students of a Catholic school in New Orleans and their parents demanding Archbishop Gregory Aymond reverse his decision to end corporal punishment, and school alumni aresuing the educational consultant who recommended the policy change!

Can this really be the 21st Century?

From yesterday’s New Orleans Times-Picayune:

The controversy over corporal punishment at St. Augustine High School resurfaced Tuesday when several alumni sued a consultant [read the suit here (pdf)] who advised Archbishop Gregory Aymond that St. Augustine students had been injured by paddling.

The claim isn’t true, the alumni said.

For months Aymond, who as archbishop exerts some control over the Catholic school, has sought to end St. Augustine’s decades-old practice of paddling students. He has said it is not consistent with Catholic values.

But backers of corporal punishment, who include St. Augustine administrators, parents and alumni, say it is part of St. Augustine’s formula for success.

According to the story, the consultant, Monica Applewhite, convinced the Archbishop to ban paddling of students against the decision of the review committee.

In late 2009 Aymond asked Monica Applewhite, described as a educational safety consultant based in Austin, Texas, to look into discipline at St. Augustine.

As Aymond’s representative, Applewhite sat in on St. Augustine’s internal review of its corporal punishment policy. The review committee elected to continue the policy, with modifications.

But the lawsuit says that Applewhite privately advised Aymond that she learned during her inquiry that parents had taken three students to the hospital after paddling, and that others had been paddled “day after day and more than 5 or 6 times a day.”

Archbishop Aymond says he has been contacted by former students and parents of students who were injured by corporal punishment in the school. He made this statement at a news conference today:

“I feel it necessary at this time to share that since the issue of paddling at St. Augustine has become public, I have been contacted both in writing and in person by individuals and parents of individual students who were injured as a result of being paddled at school,” Aymond said in a statement. “Those who have shared this information with me have done so in confidence, but at this juncture, the public should know that my concerns over paddling at St. Augustine go beyond Dr. Applewhite’s report to first-hand accounts.”

I also want to point out that paddling at St. Augustine’s is routinely used to discipline students for such shocking infractions as “tardiness, sloppy uniform dress or other minor rules infractions.”

Frankly, I thought that corporal punishment had been eliminated in the U.S. But I was wrong. According to this report on corporal punishment research, paddling is still common in a number of states.

The US Supreme Court decided in 1977 that spanking or paddling by schools is lawful where it has not been explicitly outlawed by local authorities. It is true that the incidence of CP has declined sharply in recent years, but only 31 states (plus D.C. and Puerto Rico) have actually abolished it, either de facto or de jure. CP is still used in the other 19 states, and it remains a fairly common practice in three of them, all in the South: Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi.

It is also routine, but only in a minority of (often rural or small-town) schools, in five more southern states: Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.

The latest states to abolish were Delaware, in 2003, after an eight-year gap in which no abolitions took place at state level; Pennsylvania, in 2005; Ohio, in 2009; and now in 2011 New Mexico (documentation in next update). The number of paddlings had already fallen to a low level in these states.

On the other hand, efforts to ban school CP by legislation have failed in 2003 in Wyoming and repeatedly in Missouri, and also in North Carolina in 2007 and Louisiana in 2009.

The New York Times had a story about corporal punishment in September 2006. This chart was published with the article.

The pattern suggests that corporal punishment is more accepted in southern states and red states. Perhaps there is something to notion that Republicans and conservatives generally tend toward authoritarianism.

In my opinion, paddling is child abuse and should be illegal. Furthermore, I think children have rights just like adults do. I guess if the Supreme Court disagrees with me, our only hope is for sanity in state legislatures. Good luck with that.

Thanks to Dakinikat for alerting me to this story.