Bum Rap

When the Texas Legislature gets into spanking, it's never as interesting as it should be.


Eileen Smith

Last week the House just barely passed HB 359 by Rep. Alma Allen, D-Houston, that would require public schools to obtain parental consent before paddling their children to tears. (The Senate passed its version, with amendments, on Monday.) The House floor debate provoked strong feelings from legislators, especially Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, who thinks that corporal punishment should be part of the curriculum.

“The very parent who will allow the school to use corporal punishment on their children are the ones who maintain discipline at home, and the ones who will not allow it to be done are the ones who don’t maintain discipline at home,” Zedler said. “In essence they have this attitude that somehow their child is special and doesn’t need to be disciplined.” Yes, how dare you think your child is “special” and doesn’t need to be smacked around by the lacrosse coach every now and then?

Despite Allen’s assertion that this is first and foremost a parental rights bill, as it still allows for corporal punishment in schools, opponents argue that written permission from parents shouldn’t be necessary before sadistic educators start whacking their kids with rulers. (Good God. When did Catholic nuns start teaching math in public schools?) Allen’s bill would also require same-sex paddling instead of, say, a 45-year-old man spanking a 13-year-old girl. A witness must be in the room while the punishment is doled out, which makes it that much creepier.

Although most school districts across the country banned paddling decades, if not centuries, ago, Texas is one of 20 states that still permits the practice. According to a 2009 report conducted by the ACLU-Human Rights Watch, Texas paddles the most students in the nation, more than 225,000 in one school year, as well as the most students with disabilities.

In order to secure the votes needed, Allen had accepted an amendment from Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, which would have allowed counties with fewer than 50,000 people to continue spanking without parental consent. Chisum’s reasoning was that rural school districts are in favor of the practice, mostly because there’s not much else to do in rural areas. The provision, however, was stripped in the Senate.

Chisum does have a point. In Temple, a city of 6,000, paddling in schools was banned at one point but was brought back two years ago by popular demand of the parents, although they still have to give the go-ahead. In an interesting twist, Temple school districts also require the student’s consent—the punishment is considered equivalent to an out-of-school suspension. Thank you, sir, may I have another?

Assuming that Gov. Rick Perry signs the bill into law, we’ll just have to wait and see if our public school system descends into Lord of the Flies-like chaos. Or, perhaps, we’ll just see fewer kids with bruises.