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Arkansas Leaders Dismiss U.S. Education Secretary's Call To End Corporal Punishment

Human Rights Watch
Credit Human Rights Watch

Arkansas leaders are either rejecting, or staying out of it, when it comes to the call of U.S. Education Secretary John King to end corporal punishment in schools. On Monday, King said corporal punishment amounts to assaulting a child, noting it’s illegal to do to adults in prisons or elsewhere. He also cited federal statistics showing it’s disproportionately applied to minorities and children with disabilities.

“I write to you, to call your attention to a practice in some schools — the use of corporal punishment — which is harmful, ineffective, and often disproportionately applied to students of color and students with disabilities, and which states have the power to change,” said King in a statement. “I urge you to eliminate this practice from your schools, and instead promote supportive, effective disciplinary measures.”

In a statement to KUAR, Governor Asa Hutchinson said he respects the decision of local districts.

“This sort of guidance, which we’ve come to expect out of this administration, is overreaching and unnecessary. These decisions are made by school districts at the local level in our state—a fact the Governor has always acknowledged and respected.”

Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key also opted not to respond directly to the arguments laid out by Secretary King. Instead, in a statement Key pointed out that statewide laws governing schools are promulgated by the state legislature.

“Discipline is a local district policy and a statewide ban on corporal punishment would require legislative action.”

Neither Hutchinson or Key responded directly to questions about disproportionate use of corporal punishment, targeting disabled and minority students, or about their personal philosophy of corporal punishment in their home lives.

Secretary King said the data behind corporal punishment “shock the conscience.”

“…the use of in-school corporal punishment tends to be associated with characteristics such as a child’s race, national origin, sex, and/or disability status. Significantly, such disparities can raise concerns of unlawful race, national origin, sex, or disability discrimination under federal law, although statistics alone would not end an inquiry. According to the Department’s Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), over 110,000 students were subject to corporal punishment in school during the 2013-2014 academic year.8 Yet in-school corporal punishment and its related harm disproportionately impact students of color. Based on the 2013-2014 CRDC, approximately 40,000 — or more than one-third — of those students who were subjected to corporal punishment are black; black students, by comparison, make up only 16 percent of the total public school student population.9 Similarly, in states where students were subjected to corporal punishment, black boys were 1.8 times as likely as white boys to be subject  to corporal punishment, and black girls were 2.9 times as likely as white girls to be subject to corporal punishment. 10 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.”

Corporal punishment is legal in some form in 22 states including Arkansas. The Arkansas Department of Education reports 20,063 incidents of corporal punishment were recorded during the 2015-16 school year. A majority of Arkansas school districts allow corporal punishment. However, several of the state's largest districts, like the Little Rock School District, do not allow school officials to physically punish students.

Copyright 2016 KUAR

Jacob Kauffman
Jacob Kauffman is a reporter and anchor for KUAR. He primarily covers the state legislature and politics beat while juggling anchoring Morning Edition Monday through Friday.