Tennessee legislators collecting corporal punishment data, attempting to ban it for students with disabilities

Brandon Paykamian • Apr 9, 2018 at 7:11 PM

Last week, the Tennessee Legislature passed a bill that would require public schools to submit an annual report to the Tennessee Department of Education detailing their use of corporal punishment.

SB 1947, sponsored by state Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, was filed with the aim of requiring school systems to report when each student was “spanked,” as well as the reason corporal punishment was used in each case. The Senate adopted and passed the House’s companion bill, sponsored by Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville, after the House approved it Wednesday. 

One area of particular concern, according to Crowe, is a report released last month by the state Comptroller's Office indicating students with disabilities are punished at higher rates than other children.

“The one thing I don’t want is special needs kids being punished because of their special needs,” Crowe said. “If a kid with hearing problems was punished for not responding appropriately or something like that, that would be awful.”

While these recent proposals aim to figure out why students with special needs are being punished, Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, and Powell have gone a step further by looking to ban corporal punishment for students with disabilities.

SB 2330 now awaits approval by the Senate after HB 2330 was passed in the House last week. 

“Many times, these children have emotional or mental disabilities that make it difficult to understand the consequences of their behavior and, in some cases, subjecting them to corporal punishment can undo many years of positive development,” Powell said, adding that corporal punishment is not allowed for any student in his district. He has previously proposed banning it throughout the state. 

Powell said Monday he expects the Senate to make a decision by “this week or next.” 

Crowe said he supports this measure, but is apprehensive about proposing measures that would ban corporal punishment altogether. Today, most school districts in the state allow corporal punishment, and Tennessee remains one of 22 states that hasn’t banned it. 

"At this point, in Tennessee, each individual school system is allowed by state law to decide whether or not they want to use corporal punishment and to develop policies with regard to corporal punishment that, in many cases, allow the parents to make that decision. Since Tennessee — from Mountain City to Memphis — is so diverse culturally, I think, at this point, this is the best approach,” Crowe said.

“However, as to the special needs children, I do support Senator Kyle's bill that would put the corporal punishment for special needs kids on hold until we can review the data that will be collected this upcoming school year," he said.

Kyle could not be immediately reached for comment. 

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