School districts have controlled whether they use corporal punishment — or physical disciplining — since 1985, when the N.C. General Assembly allowed them to determine policy on the practice.
Tom Vitaglione, senior fellow at the advocacy group NC Child, said putting pressure on state legislators and school districts to confront the issue has been a large part of how the group has advocated against the practice.
“Now that we’re down to just two districts using it, we’re hoping that in January there will be another movement to get a statewide ban,” he said. “We’ve kept the candle lit and kept it in front of folks.”
Vitaglione said the determining factor for school boards to finally ban corporal punishment is usually retirements.
“A lot of it has to do with younger teachers coming in who won’t use it even if the principal allows it, and younger principals who won’t use it even if the district allows it,” he said. “It’s then easier for the superintendent to go to the board and say, ‘Now’s the time to do it.’”
This was the case for Macon. Chris Baldwin, superintendent of Macon County Schools, said the principal of the only school that used corporal punishment retired, making the practice obsolete.
“Corporal punishment was only used 14 times last year out of a student population of 4,500 kids,” he said. “We realized that there wasn’t a real need for it.”
Vitaglione said ending corporal punishment in North Carolina schools has been a long battle.
“Since 1985, we’ve been working with the local school boards and trying to convince them that corporal punishment is an ineffective disciplinary tool,” he said. “It does not improve academic performance; in fact, it has some real emotional downsides.”
Elizabeth Gershoff, associate professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, said using corporal punishment is an ineffective way to discipline children.
“We know that the more parents spank their children, the more aggressive children are, the more likely they are to engage in antisocial or delinquent behaviors and the more mental health problems they have,” she said. “Any type of corporal punishment is making children behave worse, not better, whether by parents or by teachers.”
Gershoff said corporal punishment is also a violation of children’s right to protection against violence — which is guaranteed to adults.
“In states where corporal punishment is allowed in schools, if a teacher or principal hits a child, no one really cares,” she said. “We have a very troubling double standard with children in our society.”