Spanking, also called corporal punishment, is a discipline method in which a person inflicts pain but not injury on a child in order to modify the child’s behavior. In some states, it is perfectly legal for teachers and school administrators to spank children. In other states, using physical discipline can result in criminal charges.
For more information on spanking, see Criminal Consequences of Spanking Your Children.
Thirty-one states have outlawed spanking in schools, and many schools and school districts have their own bans against spanking. For example, California law has banned the use of corporal punishment in public schools. (Cal. Educ. Code § § 49000, 49001.) However, spanking remains permitted in the remaining 19 states. For example, in Georgia, state law allows each board of education to adopt its own policy toward spanking. (Ga. Code. Ann. § 20-2-730.) The United States Supreme Court has decided that it does not violate a student’s constitutional rights for a school to allow reasonable corporal punishment. (Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651 (1977).)
In some states where spanking is permitted, state law also gives teachers immunity (they cannot be sued in civil court) for injuries caused by spanking. In certain parts of the country, particularly in rural areas in the South and the Midwest, corporal punishment is regularly used as a means of school discipline. In some school districts, students or their parents can choose between suspension or other punishments and spanking. Oftentimes, parents choose spanking so their children do not miss school. Research shows that spanking in schools is disproportionately used against black boys and children with disabilities.
Pro- and anti-spanking advocates disagree about whether spanking is harmful or beneficial, and whether it is an effective discipline method. Anti-spanking advocates point to studies showing that spanking is correlated with anger, depression, aggression, low self-esteem, reduced achievement in school, drug use, mental illness, and violence. Pro-spanking advocates assert that spanking is an effective discipline tool, and that studies showing negative effects are inconclusive, biased, or just wrong, given that so many children have been spanked without any negative effects.
Even in states or situations that allow for spanking, the line between spanking and abuse (which is never acceptable) is not always clear. Using physical force against a child in a way that results in injury, or where the use of force is unreasonable under the circumstances, can result in criminal charges for assault, battery, or child abuse. For example, a teacher who hits a student so many times that the student has bleeding, bruising, and pain that lasts for several days could be charged with assault.
A Parent’s Effective Response to Spanking
If you are opposed to corporal punishment in schools, learn the laws in your state and know your school district’s policy. If you disagree with your district’s policy, work to change it. At the beginning of each school year, send a letter to your child’s principal stating that you do not wish for your child to be spanked. If your child is spanked at school, complain to the principal and the school board; and if your child is injured, take your child to the doctor and file charges with the police.
A conviction for assault, battery, or child abuse can have serious consequences, including time in prison or jail, a fine, probation, and restitution (repayment to the victim or the victim’s family for any costs incurred as a result of the crime). In some states, a person can lose his or her teaching license or school job if convicted of a crime against a child.
If you are charged with a crime as a result of spanking a child, you should talk to a local criminal defense attorney. If your child is injured as a result of spanking, you may also want to talk to a lawyer. An attorney can explain the law in your state and tell you what to expect in court. An attorney can help you understand your options and successfully navigate the criminal justice system.