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U.S. Department of Education Calls for End to Corporal Punishment

Association of Texas Professional Educators
Association of Texas Professional Educators

Date Posted: 4/17/2023

The U.S. Department of Education called for the end of corporal punishment in schools March 27 as Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona wrote to governors, chief state school officers, school districts, and school leaders calling for the end of corporal punishment, such as paddling, spanking, or other physical punishments, for students.

On top of the letter, the Education Department also released guiding principles for creating a safe and supportive education climate and lists recommendations on discipline in Guiding Principle 5 (Page 15). This includes co-creating discipline policies through surveys, forums, and feedback with parents, educators, and community members.

This letter comes on the eve of Colorado’s potentially banning corporal punishment altogether, according to Colorado Public Radio. Similar considerations have been made throughout the country. Oklahoma’s State House failed to pass a bill that would ban corporal punishment for students with disabilities, according to HuffPost. Meanwhile, Maryland and New York are both considering bans on corporal punishment in private schools. Last year, Mississippi saw three bills to either prohibit or reduce corporal punishment, and all three died in their respective Senate and House education committees, according to USA Today.

In Texas, House Bill  (HB) 772 was introduced in February, and it aims to end corporal punishment in schools. It was most recently left pending in the Youth Health & Safety Committee.

"It's unacceptable that corporal punishment remains legally permissible in at least 23 states,” Cardona said in a press release. “Our children urgently need their schools to raise the bar for supporting their mental health and wellbeing. Despite years of research linking corporal punishment to poorer psychological, behavioral, and academic outcomes, tens of thousands of children and youth are subjected to beating and hitting or other forms of physical harm in school every academic year, with students of color and students with disabilities disproportionately affected.”

Texas is among states where corporal punishment is still legal. However, in Texas, each school district can choose whether to allow corporal punishment, and if they do allow it, parents have the right to opt out of it.

Corporal punishment is defined as the deliberate infliction of physical pain by hitting, paddling, spanking, slapping, or any other physical force used as a means of discipline. The term does not include:

  1. physical pain caused by reasonable physical activities associated with athletic training, competition, or physical education; or
  2. the use of restraint as authorized under Section 37.0021 [relating to reasonable and necessary restraint of special education students].

This definition is in the Texas Education Code §37.0011.

However, the Texas Education Code also says certain “aversive discipline techniques” are prohibited. These techniques include electric shocks, impairing a student’s breathing or circulation, inhibiting a student’s ability to speak, withholding food, and denial of access to the restroom as a means of punishment.

You can read more about Texas laws regarding student discipline as well as many other legal resources on the ATPE website in the “Common Legal Questions” section.

ATPE does not have a legislative priority addressing the use of corporal punishment. You can find ATPE’s legislative priorities by going to the “Current Legislative Program” section on the ATPE website.