In The Politics of Autism, I write about special education and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. sent a letter this week to governors and chief state school officers urging them to end corporal punishment in schools. Corporal punishment was used on more than 110,000 students during the 2013-2014 academic year, according to the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection. It’s currently either expressly permitted or not prohibited in 22 states, and is most common in Southern states like Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama. A bill to ban corporal punishment on a federal level was introduced by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy in 2010, but it has yet to pass. This sets us apart from 42 other countries where such measures are illegal.From King's letter:
Disparities in the use of in-school corporal punishment are not limited to race; boys and students with disabilities experience higher rates of corporal punishment. Based on the 2013-2014 CRDC, boys represented about 80 percent of all students experiencing corporal punishment.[ 11 ]Similarly, in nearly all of the states where the practice is permitted, students with disabilities were subjected to corporal punishment at higher rates than students without disabilities.[ 12 ] These data and disparities shock the conscience.At the Society for Research in Child Development, Elizabeth T. Gershoff and Sarah A. Font have a report titled "Corporal Punishment in U.S. Public Schools: Prevalence, Disparities in Use, and Status in State and Federal Policy."
From the report:
States with low overall rates of corporal punishment have the fewest number of districts with disability disparities (Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, and South Carolina). Disparities are common in the other 15 states. Children with disabilities are over 50% more likely to experience school corporal punishment than their peers without disabilities in 67% of school districts in Alabama, 44% in Arkansas, 34% in Georgia, 35% in Louisiana, 46% in Mississippi, and 36% in Tennessee. Some districts have particularly high rates of disparity by disability status: In 12% of districts in Alabama, 9% in Mississippi, and 8% in Tennessee, children with disabilities are over 5 times more likely to experience corporal punishment than children without disabilities.
The fi nding that students with disabilities are at greater risk for corporal punishment than students without disabilities is troubling for two reasons. First, the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA] (1990) provides a legal precedent for children with disabilities to receive more support and assistance than children without disabilities. Given that children with disabilities are often more, rather than less, likely to experience corporal punishment than their peers without disabilities, this suggests that school staff are often responding to their challenging behaviors with harsh, rather than positive, disciplinary methods.
Second, a report from Human Rights Watch and the ACLU (2009) found that administrators sometimes administer corporal punishment to children with disabilities for behaviors that stem from their disability, such as those endemic to autism, Tourette syndrome, or obsessive compulsive disorder. It is worth noting that schools do have the legal right to use corporal punishment on students with disabilities; judges have upheld this right, even when the punishment results in a child needing psychiatric hospitalization
(Lohrmann-O’Rourke & Zirkel, 1998). That said, punishing children for symptoms of their disabilities is unlawful under IDEA.