In Louisiana Convicted Murderers Have More Civil Rights Than School Children with Disabilities

In Louisiana Convicted Murderers Have More Civil Rights Than School Children with Disabilities

When I saw this video and story recently it reminded me why I became an education activist 4 years ago and also why I have become a Libertarian more recently. We have allowed our government to become our punisher instead of our protector. The Louisiana government has given itself the right to treat your children worse than it treats convicted murderers.  People need to realize it’s our job to reign in our government, not the other way around.

In Georgia a woman was told she must grant the school district the right to “paddle” her 5 year old son or she would go to jail if they had to suspend him. He had missed 18 days of school for various dignostic tests for cancer. At least 19 States, including Louisiana, allow corporal punishment in schools. Louisiana is one of the only states, if not the only state, that grants school districts the right to strike children of all ages and any disabilities with a wooden paddle, but without parental consent (and even against parental wishes.)

Using physical punishement against adults is considered cruel and unusual punishment by the US Supreme Court, and torture by the Geneva Convention (and most of the civilized world for that matter) however the same punishment when used against children, especially those with disabilities, is considered not only legal but necessary by many in our state – including many legislators and judges. Without getting into the argument as to whether it’s okay for you to spank your own kids or not (or for whatever reason varous public or private school officials decide) consider that what is meant by Corporal Punishment in Louisiana schools is a 2 foot long wooden paddle that is used on kindergarteners and highschoolers alike. According to data I reviewed while I worked at the Louisiana department of Education, some children in our state have been paddled more than a dozen times a year for very minor infractions.

As a parent, if you spank your kids and cause them harm you could face criminal charges if they are seriously hurt or injured. However as a result of our legislature’s actions, strangers, school employees, cannot be held accountable in most cases, despite many children ending up emergency rooms each year as a result of school sponsored paddling. As a parent, you might be angry with your child, but you understand your own children’s limits, and hopefully love them even if you are mad at them or feel they need some form of physical discipline. School employees that paddle children have no such constraints or equivalent emotional bonding with the children they paddle.

Years ago the state legislature passed a law that corporal punishment is allowed in our state, at a school district’s discretion, not a parent’s. Parents do not have a right to refuse on behalf of their children. In an opinion written by Judge Scofield in 2004 for our Third Circuit Court of Appeals in the Setlif versus Rapides Parish School Board

To allow parents to unilaterally thwart the legally sanctioned decisions of school officials, could lead to troublesome, if not chaotic, results. There would be nothing to prevent ten, twenty or a hundred parents calling in to request that their child not be spanked. What if these same number of parents requested that no form of punishment whatsoever be administered to their children? The legislature, in its wisdom, chose not to leave the door open for such potentially dire consequences.

Scofield conjures up a ridiculous scenario where all forms of punishment are abolished if parents are allowed to request their kids not be beaten by the state to defend his decision to legalize the rights of schools to use discipline methods that are considered too inhumane to be used against animals by the SPCA, and quite harmful psychologically and physically to use against children by the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines. Moreover, our Supreme Court has deemed corporal punishemnt to be cruel and unusual and has banned the practice agaisnt even the most hardened criminals in our prisons. Even prisoners being put to death by the state via lethal injections are protected by our Constitution from unnecessary pain or suffering while their executions are carried out. Yet our children can be beaten until they are hospitalized and school employees are protected from prosecution by the laws enacted by our legislature and rationalized by our courts.

Scofield further defends his decision in the Setlif V Rapides corporal punishment appeal by making the case that violating the basic civil and human rights of anyone in a minority can be justified so long as you have a subjective goal seeking the “best acadmic atmosphere achievable” for the majority, as deemed by government officials, who also get to define what “order” they are trying to preserve and who the “miscreants” are that need the punishing.  By this definition, anyone who disagrees with a government defined “order” is a miscreant and can be stripped of their Constitutional protections.

The rationale of the legislature and the school board in allowing corporal punishment is based squarely upon the goal to preserve for the majority of students and teachers the best academic atmosphere achievable, even at the expense of swatting the behinds of those few miscreants who choose to disrupt the order.

That corporal punishement is necessary to maintain government defined “order” in our society, and without it the world would descend into chaos, is a warped idea that ignores the fact that the vast majority of civilized and orderly places do not use corporal punishment and that for the most part the only places that do are actually the least advanced and most chaotic. Scofield’s “logic” defends this practice by saying that the basic civil rights of minorities are irrelvant when considering the welfare of the majority, even if the objective is not to defend life or property, but just to improve the “academic atmosphere” a little. Furthermore judge Scofield argues that without the ability of public schools to use paddles on all children (including those with disabilities) whenever they wanted to, and regardless of parental wishes, (in the pursuit of “order”) schools would be uncontrollable. Most states in the United States do not permit Corporal Punishment on children, nor do most Western countries permit it on anyone. If this statement had any vestiage of accuracy we would see Corporal Punishment use increasing in the United States and across the “civilized” world. Contrary to the bizarre and unsubstantiated “belief” expressed by Scofield, the more rural or isolated the area the more likely this discipline method is used – probably because no significant media is around to report on it. Even the NFL, not known for the gentleness of its athletes, took a firm stand against corporal punishement when it suspended Adrian Petersen for a year after he injured his own son during a discipline session involving a “switch”.

The Louisiana Department of Education was instructed by the Louisiana Legislature to start collecting Corporal Punishment statistics in 2010. For years I have requested the details of that information numerous times in public information requests that copied the State Superintendent of Education, John White. To date, none of my requests have been filled. I know the state collected this data because I was the one who designed the system to collect it, and the one responsible for collecting it through 2012, when I left the Louisiana Department of Education.

I believe simply analyzing and reporting this data will lead to Louisiana in the direction of more rights for parents and children, and fewer opportunnities for citizens to be legally abused by their government.

Last year Superintendent John White testified numerous times against a charter school in Lafayette that did not propose using corporal punishment in the charter submitted to the state. However the founders of the charter, Kingdom Collegiate Academy of Excellence, had appeared on a reality show called America’s Supernanny spanking their own kids. This outraged John White (publicly). Even though John White had sponsored this charter operator with state funds, JW declared he was not comfortable having these folks in charge of a charter school in his state because of their actions on the show

If John White is really this fervently opposed to Corporal Punishment, why then have I been repeatedly met with illegal refusals to provide information collected by the Louisiana Department of Education, that was also supposed to be reported to the legislature annually?

I discussed my earlier attempts to get this information out with some insiders who wrote White’s stonewalling off as politics. The majority of the State that still permits and freely uses and promotes corporal punishment is in the northern part of the state, which was Bobby Jindal’s stronghold of support. (Parishes shown in green ban corporal punishment, districts in red allow it.)

from page 16 of CP study by Quentina Timoll
from page 16 of CP study by Quentina Timoll

Bobby Jindal and John White largely supported and protected each other until the end of Jindal’s second term so that reasoning might have been marginally plausible once.  I doubt John White relayed my request to Jindal though. If John White really cared about the use of corporal punishment why wouldn’t he have followed through with the push by former Superintendent Paul Pastorek and interim Superintendent Ollie Tyler to collect and disseminate this information to the public, as they were directed to do by Louisiana House Resolution 167?  Why withhold this information from me for 4 years?

I was told Pastorek’s hope was that publicizing this was a first step towards putting pressure on school districts to put a stop to it. However, if politics did play a role, we now have a new governor named John Bel Edwards in the Governor’s mansion with support in the more southern and metropolitan areas of the state and teacher’s unions.  I wonder if things will be any different with a Democrat versus a Republican? I’d like to think these policies would run contrary to the beliefs of the teacher’s unions and I hope that Edwards and his team will make some moves to put a stop to the practice.  I would think even LABI and Stand for Children Louisiana would get behind an effort to put an end to a practice that has been shown to lower IQs and other test scores, increase violent crime, cause depression and psychological trauma, reduce earning potential – and which has not even been shown to actually prevent future discipline incidents, merely make the future ones more likely to be violent.

I wonder if anyone has told John Bel Edwards that close to 1/4th of all students corporally punished in Louisiana have one or more disabilities and are classified as Special Education students according to the latest data I have available from the 2011-2012 school year through the Office of Civil Rights Office of Civil Rights?

Student’s classified as Special Education under IDEA make up around 10-11% of the public school population.  For those of you who are parents of a Special Education student let me break down what that means.  Your child is more than twice as likely to be corporally punished as a child without disabilities.  Are children with disabilities twice as disruptive as students in regular education?  Perhaps some children with some exceptionalities are more disruptive due to their exceptionality, like children with some forms of autism or severe emotional disturbance.

Perhaps hitting these types of children with wooden boards will “fix” their behavior problems? I kind of doubt it though.  I also wonder how many of these meted corporal punishments are not evidence of misbehavior, but frustration on the part of the teacher or the student?

Qualified and experienced Special Education teachers are often the hardest spots to fill, especially in rural districts.  When communication with words breaks down, maybe the best way to resolve situations involving children with disabilities is a two foot long wooden board and some pain? Not all of these children may understand why they are being punished, or be able to control their actions consistently due to their disability, but many animal trainers believe fear and pain works well for training animals to obey, so why not kids the theory goes.  Without properly trained professionals to handle the myriad conditions our students come to school with, maybe the best our school districts can do is to use pain to train obedience in the kids that are too hard to work with?  The evidence seems to support that hypothsis if we look at this situation in the best light.  Other conclusions we might draw are that students with disabilities are just more innately “bad”, and thus need more paddling, or that students with disabilities are easy targets and/or administrators administering corporal punishment derive some form of deviant satisfaction or pleasure from spanking children with disabilities.   I can’t really think of any non-depressing reasons this is true.  Can you?

We can ask them though.  LDOE also collects the names of the folks performing each paddling session.  Punishing that list might put a stop to the practice too.

Fortunately my earlier expose’s on this subject tipped off other researchers like Dr. Richard Fossey about the existence of LDOE’s corporal punishment data.  I spoke with Dr. Fossey at a few public venues and engaged him in e-mail correspondence for a while. He told me he was working on a project with LDOE through some of his graduate students who were given access to some of this data. I was careful not to rock the boat while this project took place, although I admit I eventually lost track of it, until now. <== Study Link

For the most part this thesis is a good resource on the history of Corporal Punishment in the United States and Louisiana, and includes some fascinating details about various court cases across the United States and where things stand now. I commend Quentina Timoll on producing this great reference source. I would caution readers to consider the actual numbers suspect as:

  • the author notes the figures provided by LDOE are as much as 30% lower than what the school districts reported to the federal government directly
  • pages 61 and 62 appear to have significant addition and subtraction errors
  • the “percentages” on pages 63 and 64 and throughout the paper are off by a factor of 100 (unless it is customary to show percentages as decimals but still label them as percentages in tables.)
  • some parishes are left off both the lists that permit corporal punishment and the lists that allow (like Red River)  They did not report any data and LDOE apparently did not enforce compliance.
  • the study lumps districts that permit corporal punishment (but rarely do it) in with districts with excessively high rates (but small populations).  I believe this leads the author to draw incorrect generalizations about the whole
  • and perhaps most importantly, because I had access to the preliminary data before I left LDOE.

When the project to collect this data first started at LDOE I somehow found myself in charge of it. I reviewed the preliminary data which was not tied to SIS, the Student Information System, but was instead tied to lists of forms collected for each instance of corporal punishment which were tied to incident checklists our folks in charge of discipline data required the school districts to complete and retain on file. The data I reviewed showed some districts disciplined upwards of 40% of their student body with wooden paddles, and numerous students were “disiciplined” this way more than 12 times over a six month period. At first I thought I was being given duplicate records.  I verified that some were.  However for the most part the records I reviewed had different action dates and different reason codes. I had a few records with identical dates – indicating a student corporally punished more than once on the same day – which were confirmed by school district data coordinators.

This preliminary data shocked me of course. I asked school districts to confirm my results and much to my surprise they were largely confirmed. Paul Pastorek was asked to resign by Bobby Jindal to make room for John White not long after my results started coming in.  I had plans to publish this information on our department website once a full year’s worth of numbers came in.  However John White came during the first full school year we started collecting this data through SIS.

After White’s arrival we were informed his intent, which was realized not long after his arrival, was to drive off all data coordinators and shut down the department I was associated with. I left not long after his arrival.  White and his minions successfully drove off or fired every one of my immediate co-workers within the first year.  That led to a great loss of institutional knowledge about what LDOE collected and how to go about validating it. The belief relayed to me by one of his appointed overseers (just before I escaped the slaughter) was that the Department needed to “get out of the business of validating data and holding school districts hands”. School districts needed to “submit the data correctly the first time or live with the consequences.” While this may sound good at first blush, it’s all of Louisiana that has to live with the consequences of bad data in the form of:

  • wasted funding for students that are not really present or improperly classified
  • invalid rankings of schools
  • teachers effectiveness calculations (ie VAM)
  • inflated graduation rates

Ultimately all this bad data leads to bad statistics which leads to incorrect conclusions and usually harmful and destructive actions.

Currently a majority of the 70 Louisiana City/Parish school school systems authorize the use of corporal punishment and only 16 (including the Special School District) ban the use of it.

School districts that reported using this the most from 2011 – 2014 with rates ranging from 5 – 10 % are: Caldwell, Franklin, Morehouse, Richland, and Sabine. Explained another way, your regular education child has a 1 in 10 to 1 in 20 chance of being paddled one or more times each year in these school districts (1 in 5 if your child is identified as a Special Education Student) – so your child is probably not graduating without a few licks during their K-12 education experience.

 

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