NFL players: Corporal punishment in schools is unacceptable

Today, corporal punishment is still legal in 19 states. That’s unacceptable. Schools should be safe and supportive environments for students, where they can learn and thrive.

In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporal punishment in public schools was not cruel and unusual punishment and does not violate constitutional rights. During a period from 1974 to 1995, 25 states banned the practice.

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Two states, New Jersey and Iowa, have also banned corporal punishment in private schools. In 2016, former U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. issued a letter calling for an end to this harmful and horrible practice. So why, in 2019, do 19 states still legally endorse physical abuse of students?

It shouldn’t have existed in 1977, and it has no place in our nation today. Public schools are one of the only public institutions where corporal punishment is still legal. It was even banned in the nation’s juvenile justice and military training facilities.

Consider these facts:

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection, more than 106,000 children received corporal punishment during the 2013-14 school year, and black students and students with disabilities are disproportionately affected by these practices. These are students who too often experience but don’t deserve the consequences of implicit bias and discrimination.

For students of color and students with disabilities — who are already dealing with unfair discipline practices that we know exist (excessive and unjust suspensions and expulsions, for example) — we’re also subjecting them to the harmful effects of corporal punishment.

In the 2013-14 school year, in public schools where corporal punishment existed, black students made up 22 percent of students enrolled, but represented 38 percent of students who received corporal punishment.

We’re also sending black girls demeaning messages about their identities. Black girls are overrepresented among girls who receive corporal punishment. In 2013-14, black girls were just 16 percent of girls enrolled in public schools but 48 percent of girls who received corporal punishment.  

Students with disabilities, who make up 11 percent of students in schools that use corporal punishment made up 15 percent of corporal punishment cases.

Shockingly, in the 2015-16 school year, nearly 1,500 children ages 3-5 received corporal punishment in school — babies that we’ve cruelly and unfairly decided deserve to be hit. Sadly, many of these babies being physically punished in school were black children. These egregious disparities must end.

We also know that students often receive corporal punishment for subjective and minor disruptive behavior such as talking back, not turning in homework, violating dress codes, laughing, using cell phones, being late to class and using “inappropriate” language.  

Much like in the criminal justice system, prejudice in our schools has also been institutionalized. For states that allow corporal punishment, a minor offense or mistake can lead to lasting mental, emotional and physical effects for students.

Some people may say that while corporal punishment is technically legal in some states, no one really uses it. Others may still practice or encourage this abuse because they believe in the old, “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” myth.

Well, the fact of the matter is just one child who experiences corporal punishment is one child too many. Just last school year in Kentucky, over 400 incidents of corporal punishment were reported — an increase from the year before.  

Let’s get one thing straight: Corporal punishment is not discipline; it’s punishment.  

Corporal punishment does not improve behavior. In fact, spanking can be associated with increased aggression and behavioral issues, poor mental health, reduced cognitive ability and low self-esteem.

States that continue to allow corporal punishment have higher rates of child poverty and mortality, lower college graduation rates and spend less per student than states that have banned it.

Instead of physical punishment, states and districts should consider more positive approaches, like:

  • culturally inclusive teaching that affirms students’ identities;
  • school settings that allow students to be themselves and to interact with diverse students who are unlike themselves;
  • ongoing training and support for educators;
  • greater access to mental-health services and school counselors for students;
  • and practices like restorative justice and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS).

It’s time that we see the humanity in our students. What signals are we sending to students about their value and self-worth when we physically punish them? What are we telling their peers who watch this happen?

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If a student gets hit by a teacher, what are we telling them about the teaching profession during a time when we so desperately need more teachers?

Just recently, Rep. Alcee HastingsAlcee (Judge) Lamar HastingsHarris hops past Biden in early race for Black Caucus support NFL players: Corporal punishment in schools is unacceptable Biden, Harris lead in 2020 endorsements MORE (D-Fla.) introduced a bill that prevents federal funding from going to education institutions, both public and private, that still allow corporal punishment.

We join with members of Congress, former Education Secretary John B. King, The Education Trust and the many other education, child advocacy, medical, civil rights and disability rights organizations to call for an end to corporal punishment in all of America’s schools.

It’s beyond time.

Demario Davis (@demario__davis on Twitter)‏ is a Players Coalition board member and a linebacker for the New Orleans Saints. Doug Baldwin (@DougBaldwinJr on Twitter) is a Players Coalition board member and a wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks. The Players Coalition consists of NFL players striving to make an impact on social justice and racial equality at the federal, state and local levels.