Why Is a Florida County School Board Bringing Back the Paddle?

BlogHer Original Post

I remember the paddle in my principal's office when I was in elementary school. I was never introduced to the business end of it, but I am a pleaser by nature and threats were unnecessary to get me to behave. Since my formative years, paddles have disappeared from elementary schools in 31 states -- and had disappeared from the Marion County principals' offices -- until this week, when the school board voted to bring them back after a three-year absence. But why? The more I looked into the story, though, the more confused I got. It seems like there are red flags everywhere behind this decision.

school paddle

Image: Wesley Fryer on Flickr

WTF #1: Local Data Doesn't Really Support Bringing Paddles Back.

According to Ocala.com, discipline problems have decreased since the 2010 Marion County school board paddling ban:

Despite predictions by some that disciplinary problems would increase without the threat of paddling, the number of out-of-school suspensions actually has declined.

In 2005-06, the percentage of students who were suspended from school for one to 10 days was 37 percent. In 2009-10, the last year of paddling, the percentage of suspended students declined to 23.1 percent.

Vianello attributes that decline to the addition of behavioral specialists. In 2011-12, two years after paddling was removed, the rate dropped to 22 percent. So far this year, the number of student referrals has declined significantly when compared with the same time period in 2011-12.

So why on earth would the board revive it?

WTF #2: What's This Concern About Minority Students?

New school board member Carol Ely got the measure passed, saying it's a good disciplinary option, but it's up to principals and parents to decide if the paddle will do anything other than hang menacingly from the wall (or wherever principals store their spanking tools). Other board members disagree with the policy; one, Bobby James, "suggested corporal punishment could end up being used disproportionately on minority students."

What? Why would he think minorities would get the paddle more often? Why are we not focusing more on that part of the story? And why isn't the school board taking steps to prevent inordinate punishment of minority students if they are concerned that might be a problem regardless of punishment type?

WTF #3: What Is With These Restrictions?

But! THIS punishment type has caveats. Lots and lots and lots of them. According to the Ocala Star Banner:

The board ruled that paddling can be used only if a parent gives a standing written OK once a year. In addition, the principal must obtain verbal permission at the time the punishment is handed down.

Under the policy, corporal punishment can only be used at the elementary school level. It can only be used on a child once a semester. Principals are not bound to use the punishment.

Paddling is intimidating, right? Or it's supposed to be? I don't know how anyone could be intimidated by a paddle that can only be used when the moon is full on a Tuesday. This list of caveats reads like a sketch comedy.

WTF #4: Nobody Seems to Want the Option, Anyway.

Seriously? What is going on here? It appears even the parents and principals in the school district aren't in favor of paddling, per this video.

I called Carol Ely for comment on her push to reinstate paddling. I'll update this post if I hear back from her.

What do you think? Do you agree with paddling in school or are you as befuddled by this story as I am? Or am I missing something here?

Rita Arens is the author of the young adult novel The Obvious Game & the senior editor of BlogHer. Find more at www.surrenderdorothyblog.com.


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