School Climate & Safety

Students Most at Risk of Getting Spanked at School Are Black or Disabled, Data Show

By Christina A. Samuels — June 12, 2019 2 min read
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Nineteen states, the vast majority in the South, permit school personnel to strike students with belts, rulers, homemade wooden paddles, or bare hands in the name of discipline.

But even within those states, whether a student is actually at risk of physical punishment often depends on race, geography or disability status, according to a new analysis of 2013-14 federal education data by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

For example, looking just at the school districts that reported practicing corporal punishment in the 2013-14 school year, 45 percent of schools within those districts reported no incidents—suggesting that a child’s risk of corporal punishment for similar behaviors could be a quirk of where that student attends school, the report contends.

Corporal punishment is also not practiced uniformly across states. Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas accounted for nearly 70 percent of corporal punishment incidents; nearly a quarter of cases of students being struck as punishment occurred in Mississippi.

The analysis also found that black girls were more than than three times as likely to be struck as white girls, a rate of 5.2 percent compared to 1.7 percent. (Mississippi accounts for more than half of cases of black girls being physically punished.) Black male students were nearly twice as likely as to be struck as white male students, a rate of 14 percent compared to 7.5 percent. And in more than half of the schools that practice corporal punishment, students with disabilities were struck at higher rates than those without disabilities.

The Striking Outlier: The Persistent, Painful and Problematic Practice of Corporal Punishment in Schools” differs from some analyses by taking a closer look only at the schools and districts that reported corporal punishment.

“This data should shock our conscience—not only because studies show that students of color do not misbehave any more than their white peers, but because the impact of corporal punishment can be devastating on a student’s ability to learn and succeed,” wrote Derrick Johnson, the president and CEO of the NAACP, in the report’s foreword.

Another Analysis of Corporal Punishment Data

Education Week explored corporal punishment, its prevalence and ramifications in a 2016 special report. The 2016 report refers to to 21 states “practicing” corporal punishment, while the new SPLC report refers to fewer states that “allow” physical discipline of students.

The discrepancy comes from some policy changes since the Education Week report was published, and through some possible errors in federal data. The SPLC report looked at data only from 17 states in 2013-14 that both reported corporal punishment incidents and that allow the practice. In contrast, the Education Week report focused on all reported incidents of corporal punishment reported in 2013-14, even those reported in four jurisdictions where it is ostensibly outlawed: the District of Columbia, Michigan, New York and Ohio.

Read more of Education Week’s reporting on corporal punishment:

Corporal Punishment in U.S. Schools

Nearly 100,000 K-12 Students Still Spanked or Paddled at School, Data Show

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.