A letter from Ms. M, January, 2000

I recently moved my family from New York to a suburban town in Texas. The schools are said to be very good and have ample budgets and very nice facilities. The teachers and principals seem very interested in the students and helpful.

Everything seemed to be going great with the school until several weeks ago when my 17-year-old daughter--a straight-A student--announced that she had been "paddled" in the vice principal's office. I had never even heard of this practice before. Apparently, my daughter was a little more than five minutes late for first period due to car trouble. This is considered skipping a class (anything over five minutes) and she was given the choice between being suspended from the school and paddled. Because of her grades and involvement in activities she did not want to miss (tennis team), she chose the paddling--as apparently most students at the high school do.

As I understand what happens, all students who have gotten in trouble on a particular week are sent to the vice principal's office during 7th period on Friday and receive a "paddling." There are over 2000 students at the school and the week my daughter got in trouble there was a line of 22 students (12 boys and 10 girls) outside the office awaiting their "swats."

Girls are paddled by a female coach who has been designated as the "paddler" for girls. This coach is a former college athlete and nearly six foot tall and 200 pounds. My daughter is 5'1" and 100 pounds. She was made to bend over a bench and stick her bottom in the air. She was then given a lecture, followed by 5 very hard "swats" with a 30" board ("paddle"). She was in tears by the time the punishment (witnessed by the male vice principal) ended. When she got home several hours later her buttocks were still bright red and you could see the outline of the paddle on her skin. Although there was no bruising, she had difficulty sitting down over the weekend.

People here treat it very casually as if it is a tradition and no big deal. My daughter's friends say they have received this punishment and that they don't think it is that big of a deal! I can't believe it! Is there anything that can be done?

Ms. M_____

The Associate Vice Principal's letter to Ms. M

Dear Ms. M

I have received your letter regarding the disciplinary measures arising out of your daughter's violation of the Student Code of Conduct. I must say that many of your concerns reflect a lack of information and/or understanding of the discipline policies of district, as well as some of the facts surrounding her referral to my office. There are several points which I would make in response to your letter.

First, corporal punishment is legal in Texas and has been widely used for decades. Each district is given the responsibility to formulate its own policy with regard to corporal punishment. The policy of this district is contained in the student handbook that is provided to all parents and students in the district. Virtually all parents support our efforts to maintain discipline in the schools and complaints regarding our polices, including corporal punishment, are very rare.

Second, you do not seem to be fully aware of the circumstances surrounding your daughter's referral to my office. You are correct that your daughter was in excess of five minutes late for her first period class on December 3, and that this is considered truancy under district policy. However, this is hardly the entire story. Your letter is the first we have heard of any "car trouble" as the cause of the truancy. In fact, your daughter was carpooling with several other students (tennis teammates) and the group stopped to eat breakfast before school. As a result of this detour, the vehicle she was driving ran out gas and the group had to push it some two blocks to a service station. (While the car was being filled with gas, one of the students purchased tobacco and beer which were to be consumed at a team "party" over the weekend.) This is what delayed their arrival to school. Four other students riding with your daughter have indicated that this is what happened (they were also referred to my office and received corporal punishment).

Moreover, I would point out that to avoid arriving at school even later on the morning of December 3, Your daughter parked the vehicle in a space expressly reserved for faculty and staff. A review of our computer parking records revealed that you daughter had five prior parking violations (three for parking in the teacher's lot), and that the tickets associated with these violations were unpaid.

The student handbook and district policy provide that each parking citation that is not paid or appealed within ten days results in a Level One violation of the Student Discipline Code that may result in corporal punishment. Given your daughter's five (5) independent violations (in addition to her truancy), she was actually given a fairly lenient punishment--largely because of her otherwise outstanding record. As I think you know, your daughter was given the choice between five days of internal school suspension and corporal punishment consisting of five swats. She chose the latter.

I would point out that at high schools in the district, the only violation of the Student Code of Conduct that gives rise to corporal punishment without election by the student is fighting. In all other cases, the student is given the option of corporal punishment in lieu of other penalties such as detention or internal school suspension. Many students choose corporal punishment, as did your daughter.

I would also point out the your daughter's paddling was administered in accordance with the district guidelines for grades 9 to 12. The guidelines provide that the punishment will be administered to the student's buttocks with a wooden paddle of approved dimensions, by a staff member, and outside the visual presence of other students. The guidelines also provide that female students will be paddled by a female staff member. All of these guidelines were followed in your daughter's case.

The guidelines provide that the maximum number of swats that may be administered to a student per school day is five. It is not all uncommon students in the 11th and 12th grade to receive five swats, and as indicated above, this was fairly lenient in your daughter's case, given that she engaged in five violations of the discipline code which could have given rise to five independent referrals to my office.

Your daughter's paddling was not more severe than literally thousands that have been administered in the high school during the time I have been Associate Vice Principal. As you acknowledge in your letter, it did not result in any bruising or other significant marks. Our records show that this year 186 students--105 boys and 81 girls--have been paddled and your complaint is the first we have received.

Virtually all parents are extremely supportive of our efforts to maintain discipline in the school so that it can be a place of learning. I have taught at schools in other states where corporal punishment was not an option, and as a result maintaining order was much more difficult-- if not impossible. (I would note that since your daughter's referral to my office, she has not received any parking tickets or been late to any classes, first period or otherwise.)

We take pride in the fact that our school has not degenerated into a "circus" as have others, and hope you will support us in our efforts to maintain a positive and productive environment where your daughter and others can maximize their academic potential, without unnecessary disciplinary distractions. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to contact me by letter or phone.

Sincerely yours,

Associate Vice Principal

118,701 students were paddled in the schools of Texas during the 1996-97 school year according to the Office for Civil Rights l997 Elementary and Secondary School Civil Rights Compliance Report. That number is based on voluntary self-reporting, the true number is much higher. Teachers in Texas account for more than 1/4 of all school paddlings in the United States, and Texas is just one of 23 states that allow the practice.

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