TRI-CITIES, TN (WJHL) – At least 27 Northeast Tennessee schools in six districts paddled students with disabilities more often than the rest of the student population, according to our analysis of two years’ worth of local and federal corporal punishment data.

Most states in the United States, including Virginia, ban the form of discipline, which is described by opponents as archaic, ineffective and inappropriate.

Our Community Watchdog investigation revealed not only are administrators still paddling students when they misbehave in some area schools, children with disabilities are more commonly on the receiving end of that wooden paddle at several schools.

“It does bother me a lot,” occupational therapist Rosellen Ryals said.

Ryals said the children she helps don’t benefit from paddling. She said it sends the wrong message that hitting is okay.

“With the population I work with, it usually reinforces them thinking that, ‘Well if somebody does it to me, then I do it to somebody else if they don’t follow the rules that I think of,'” Ryals said. “They have very rigid morals, very rigid ways of thinking and so trying to get their attention using that or to correct their behavior is not very effective.”

During the 2015-2016 school year, West View Elementary in Washington County, DeBusk Elementary in Greene County and McPheeter’s Bend in Hawkins County were home to the highest rates of corporal punishment for children with disabilities, according to our review of school system data.

The statistics at those schools weren’t even close to their peer groups when you divide the number of incidents by the total populations.

“Corporal punishment is approved as a form of discipline by TN Code Annotated and Hawkins County Board of Education policy,” Hawkins County Director of Schools Steve Starnes said. “A majority of corporal punishment incidences take place at the request of and with permission from the parent or guardian.”Corporal Punishment Rates

SchoolStudents with DisabilitiesStudents without Disabilities
McPheeter’s Bend Elem.20%1.35%
DeBusk Elementary17.94%2.53%
West View Elementary14.28%5.97%

Source:  Office for Civil Rights, Local districts

West View was one of six Washington County schools that reported a higher rate of corporal punishment for students with disabilities in at least one of the two federally-required reporting years. During the 2013-2014 school year, West View (23.88 percent) and Jonesborough Middle (17.24 percent) had the highest rates of corporal punishment involving students with disabilities in Washington County.

“Does it bother you at all that students with disabilities were paddled at a higher rate than students without disabilities at some schools?” we asked Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton.

“I think it’s totally up to the parents,” she said. “If the parents wish for that form of discipline, then I support it.”

DeBusk was one of 10 Greene County schools over the two-year period. During the 2013-2014 school year, Chuckey-Doak Middle (10.29 percent) had the highest rate of corporal punishment involving students with disabilities in Greene County.

“We just want to do what’s best for kids and certainly hope that line of communication with parents is there,” Director of Schools David McLain said.

“And you think in some cases paddling the kid is what’s best for them?” we asked.

“Do I think that in reference to discipline? Maybe after all other forms of discipline is looked at and with support from parents,” he said.

  • See also: Lawmakers call for state corporal punishment review

Former U.S. Department of Education Secretary John King, Jr. sent governors and top school officials a letter in 2016, urging them to pass laws banning corporal punishment. He called the use of corporal punishment “harmful, ineffective, and often disproportionately applied to students of color and students with disabilities…Significantly, such disparities can raise concerns of unlawful race, national origin, sex, or disability discrimination.”

Our review of the most recent data provided to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights showed a contrast during the 2013-14 and 2015-16 school years at schools in Greene, Hawkins, Johnson, Carter, Unicoi and Washington counties. Three of the schools, West View, Fall Branch and McPheeter’s Bend, showed disparities in both schools years.

“It’s not a lot greater,” McLain said of his district’s disparities.

He prefers to look at the number of times corporal punishment is used rather than the rate of use.

“Sometimes that is data that is inflated if you’re talking about one or two kids,” McLain said.

Overall, McLain said the numbers show a continuing decrease in corporal punishment in Greene County. Although the numbers are declining districtwide, records identify some schools where paddling increased for kids with disabilities.

“In many of these situations, this was probably asked for by the parent to be administered,” McLain said. “That happens lots of times.”

Regardless, he stands behind the practice. He said most parents in his district support and often request the form of discipline.

“We’re going to communicate with parents,” he said.

Like in Greene County and other districts, Washington County’s director of schools said corporal punishment is only used in partnership with parents and only after other forms of discipline don’t work.

“I think you have to look at the community,” Halliburton said. “Every community is different in what their wishes are. We’re trying to help parents develop young people into wonderful citizens and every parent has a different philosophy on discipline.”

Halliburton came from Metro Nashville Public Schools, which banned corporal punishment 15 years ago.

“In every individual case we’re going to honor what our parents’ wishes are,” Halliburton said.

Unicoi County Director of Schools John English stopped honoring parents’ corporal punishment wishes almost two years ago. He’s not only a parent, but he’s also a former principal, who once relied on corporal punishment himself.

“We’re going to always, always look at other alternative practices,” English said. “I’ve seen both sides of the equation. For us it just came down to the effectiveness of it. Were we comfortable with it?”

English is the one who led the charge to stop using corporal punishment in his district when he took over in 2015.

“Since the time that we changed there’s not been any principal say anything but, ‘No, we’re glad about this,'” English said.

Our data shows in the 2013-2014 school year, students with disabilities at four Unicoi County Schools received corporal punishment more often. English said he looked at the data too and concluded the practice just isn’t practical.

“You don’t want to just beat your head against the wall and keep doing the same thing and expect to get a different result if the behavior is not changing,” English said.

Both Greene and Washington counties admit, at best, the rare punishment only works some of the time.

“Do you think it works?” we asked McLain.

“Does corporal punishment work? My answer to that, in certain situations, yes I’ve seen corporal punishment work,” he said. “I’ve also seen where it probably did not work.”

“Do you think it works?” we asked Halliburton.

“I think that’s up to each individual child,” she said.

Ryals said corporal punishment doesn’t work.

“No, not with our kids,” the occupational therapist said. “It just becomes a never-ending pattern.”

Ryals said she’s a believer in consequences, but only those that correct behaviors, not corporal punishment and not isolation. Instead, she suggested taking away free play and giving students calming, heavy work activities and even requiring them to help students they hurt.

Ryals understands why kids with disabilties get in trouble. She said early intervention is critical for prevention.

“These kids go from zero to 60 in the blink of an eye if you don’t see the warning signs,” Ryals said.

At area schools, parents can opt out of corporal punishment for their kids. Region wide, the data showed the form of discipline is decreasing for kids with special needs, going from 84 instances during the 2013-2014 year to 52 during the 2015-2016 school year.

Four schools in Johnson County made our list over the four-year period. Director of Schools Dr. Mischelle Simcox said she too looks at the number of incidents not the rate.

“We do not feel like this is significantly different,” Simcox said.

One Carter County school showed a disparity. Cloudland Elementary showed an 11.7 percent paddling rate for students with disabilities in the 2015-2016 school year.

“All parents/guardians were contacted by phone or by on-site conference prior to punishment,” Carter County Federal Programs and Testing Director Jerri Beth Nave said. “(Three) students were paddled twice during the school year. “Corporal Punishment Rates

SchoolDistrictW/DisabilitiesW/O DisabilitiesYear
West View ElementaryWashington23.88%6.62%2013-2014
McPheeter’s Bend ElementaryHawkins22.22%4.40%2013-2014
McPheeter’s Bend ElementaryHawkins20%1.35%2015-2016
DeBusk Elementary SchoolGreene17.94%2.53%2015-2016
Jonesborough Middle SchoolWashington17.24%6%2013-2014
West View ElementaryWashington14.28%5.97%2015-2016
Cloudland Elementary SchoolCarter11.76%8.26%2015-2016
Chuckey Doak MiddleGreene10.29%4.76%2013-2014
Fall Branch ElementaryWashington8.88%0.89%2015-2016
Johnson County MiddleJohnson8.69%0.84%2015-2016
Unicoi ElementaryUnicoi6.67%2.01%2013-2014
Johnson County High SchoolJohnson5.61%2.30%2015-2016
Unicoi County Middle SchoolUnicoi5.21%4.35%2013-2014
Roan Creek ElementaryJohnson4.90%0.51%2013-2014
Fall Branch ElementaryWashington4.76%1.93%2013-2014
Rock Creek ElementaryUnicoi4.65%1.47%2013-2014
Camp Creek ElementaryGreene4.44%1.79%2013-2014
Baileyton ElementaryGreene4.44%0.75%2013-2014
Chuckey Elementary SchoolGreene4.08%1.64%2013-2014
Grandview ElementaryWashington3.96%0.38%2013-2014
Doak Elementary SchoolGreene3.70%2.91%2015-2016
West Pines Elementary SchoolGreene3.70%1.64%2015-2016
Hawkins ElementaryHawkins3.17%0.69%2013-2014
Johnson County High SchoolJohnson3.17%2.48%2013-2014
Nolachuckey Elementary SchoolGreene2.94%1.31%2015-2016
Gray ElementaryWashington2.86%0.38%2013-2014
North Greene High SchoolGreene2.85%0.00%2015-2016
Doe ElementaryJohnson2.63%1.29%2015-2016
Unicoi County IntermediateUnicoi2.38%0.69%2013-2014
Lamar ElementaryWashington2.04%0.41%2013-2014
Mosheim Elementary SchoolGreene1.50%0.91%2015-2016
Mosheim Elementary SchoolGreene1.28%1.20%2013-2014

Source:  Office for Civil Rights, Local districtsCopyright 2017 WJHL. All rights reserved.