- The practice of spanking, hitting or paddling students should end and be replaced by evidence-based approaches to address challenging behaviors, such as positive behavioral interventions and supports, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona wrote in a letter Friday to governors, chief state school officers, and district and school leaders.
- The U.S. Department of Education also issued on Friday guiding principles for discipline that implore schools to "treat students with dignity and respect" and to cease disproportionate use of exclusionary discipline.
- The communications come as educators report an increase in challenging student behaviors and data shows a majority of school shooters are students. The letter and guiding principles are recommendations and not mandates.
Although a majority of states and the District of Columbia have laws banning corporal punishment in schools, 23 states either expressly allow or do not expressly prohibit the practice, Cardona's letter said.
"Schools should be safe places where all students and educators interact in positive ways that foster students' growth, belonging, and dignity — not places that teach or exacerbate violence and fear," Cardona wrote.
Students subjected to hitting, spanking or paddling by school staff have higher rates of mental health issues and drug and alcohol disorders, the letter states. Although federal data shows the use of corporal punishment declined 34.5% between the 2013-14 and 2017-18 school years, the letter said the practice is likely underreported by schools.
Federal data from the Civil Rights Data Collection also shows students of color, boys and students with disabilities are subjected to corporal punishment at disproportionately higher rates compared to their peers. For example, Black students were 2.3 times more likely to receive corporal punishment compared to White students in 2017-18.
That same school year, about 900 preschool students were subjected to corporal punishment. A panel of early childhood experts speaking at a webinar hosted by The Hunt Institute in January said corporal punishment can leave long-lasting negative impacts on young children.
The call to end corporal punishment in schools was also included in Friday's recommendations for replacing exclusionary discipline approaches such as suspensions and expulsions with practices that foster "safe, inclusive and supportive" school climates.
Specifically, the Education Department's recommendations include:
- Ensuring equitable access for students to mental health services.
- Providing rigorous, culturally relevant and welcoming school environments.
- Using multi-tiered system of support frameworks to address whole-school practices and more intensive individual interventions.
- Supporting classroom teachers in classroom management practices through pre-service training and ongoing professional development.
- Involving parents and the school community in creating discipline and restorative policies.
These recommendations follow the Education Department's issuance last summer of nonregulatory guidance discouraging discriminatory discipline practices for students with disabilities.
The Education Department's Office for Civil Rights has also conducted several investigations recently about discriminatory practices for seclusion and restraint in schools, leading to policy changes in those locations.
While the Education Department under President Joe Biden has taken a firm stance against exclusionary discipline practices, debate continues in localities, states and even on Capitol Hill. At a hearing before the House Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee last year, partisan differences emerged with Democrats pushing for more limits on exclusionary discipline and Republicans preferring that these issues be handled locally.
Blair Wriston, senior government affairs associate at The Education Trust, a nonprofit that advocates for equity in education, said the letter and discipline recommendations will be helpful to schools.The group would also like to see federal legislation that ends corporal punishment and seclusion nationwide and that ends the use of restraint in most settings, Wriston said.
"There's no place in school for corporal punishment," Wriston said. "It's clear that corporal punishment can be incredibly destructive on kids and harms their social, emotional and academic well being.”