NASHVILLE, TN (WJHL) – Tennessee Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham (R), District 26, and committee member Sen. Rusty Crowe (R), District 3, are asking the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury and Tennessee Department of Education to review the use of corporal punishment on children with disabilities after learning the results of our Community Watchdog investigation.
Our review of federal and local data identified more than two dozen area schools where administrators paddled students with disabilities at a higher rate than their peers during two of the last four school years.
“It has come to our attention that there is a disparity in the numbers of children with disabilities and children without disabilities with regards to disciplinary action including corporal punishment in Tennessee schools,” Sen. Gresham and Sen. Crowe said in their letter sent to Comptroller Justin Wilson on Tuesday. “It appears that children with disabilities are receiving disciplinary action including corporal punishment at a much higher rate.”
In the letter, Sen. Gresham and Sen. Crowe asked the Office of Research and Education Accountability to research the disparity and report back the findings.
“It’s troubling to me that there’s a disparity,” Sen. Crowe said. “That disparity is concerning. I do think we need to look at that this year.”
Sen. Crowe is the only member of the Northeast Tennessee delegation on a General Assembly education committee. He also said he is generally a supporter of corporal punishment.
“I feel like if it’s done properly, it’s good, but these times are different and we need to take a look at it and see where we are,” he said.
Rep. Timothy Hill (R), District 3, said he’s supportive of a statewide review.
“It looks like these numbers should be reviewed to get to the root cause,” he said. “I would be willing to support a Department of Education review, as I am certain other northeast legislators would be in support as well. Thank you for raising this issue.”
Rep. John Holsclaw, Jr. (R), District 4, agreed with the need for additional study.
“I definitely think this issue needs to be closely studied, reviewed and analyzed,” Rep. Holsclaw said. “To ensure there is no mistreatment of individuals regardless of mental disabilities. No one deserves to be abused period.”
Rep. Matthew Hill, (R), District 7, believes the study should start locally.
“This is something that definitely needs to be looked into,” he said. “I believe it should be looked at the school district level first then if needed move to the State.”
Other lawmakers said they don’t know enough about the situation to really comment. A couple legislators also said they support a parent’s decision about how to best discipline his or her child.
“My number one default is that I would default to that parent and what that parent is looking for in the raising of their child,” Sen. Jon Lundberg (R), District 4, said.
“As a citizen or a Representative, I would never presume to tell a parent how to discipline their children,” Rep. Micah Van Huss (R), District 6, said. “As it pertains to children with disabilities receiving more corporal punishment, I would only be able to comment on specific situations.”
“Like many issues, this seems to be one that local school boards/director of schools/parents want to address in their own ways,” Rep. David Hawk (R), District 5, said. “I will certainly stay on alert for any potential misuse or abuse of any local policies.”
“I am not real familiar with this,” Rep. John Crawford (R), District 1, said. “Actually, I hadn’t heard anything about it until you mentioned it.”
“I have no formal comment at this time,” Rep. Bud Hulsey (R), District 2, said.
Unicoi County Schools studied its use of corporal punishment almost two years ago and stopped the practice, according to Director of Schools John English. English said he doesn’t think this is a right or wrong issue, but he thinks it is fair to consider a child’s circumstances before disciplining.
“Some people would say, ‘That’s not fair,’ and absolutely I get that, but fair to me is what’s fair for this kid in their situation,” he said. “Of course, the offense plays a role in that. It has to…I think when you have students with disabilities you do have to take a hard look at their situation, what the disability is and is that related to the offense.”
Five area school districts still rely on corporal punishment sparingly. Top school leaders defended the practice, saying administrators only paddle students after other discipline fails to work and in partnership with parents. They also said overall, the number of times corporal punishment is used is declining.
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