Elizabethton school board hears from corporal punishment critic

John Thompson • Updated Feb 22, 2018 at 8:29 AM

ELIZABETHTON — The Elizabethton Board of Education heard some criticism about its recently approved policy allowing corporal punishment during its monthly meeting on Tuesday night.

The board also accepted a resolution for the Elizabethton City Council that commits that body to the future project to expand and renovate the T.A. Dugger Jr. High School.

The corporal punishment discussion was made by Tom Johnson of Tennesseans for Nonviolent School Discipline. He spoke during the time set aside for citizens to address the board.

Johnson discussed three questions: “What are the risks involved with paddling students?” “How well can those risks be managed?” and “Do the benefits truly outweigh the downsides?”

Holding up a very large paddle, Johnson said the policy approved by the board last month does not have standards about how large a paddle may be. He said the policy does not provide for any training on how to use a paddle in such a way as to no cause unintended injuries.

He said those using corporal punishment are not required to demonstrate that they have good aim and control. He said that while it is true that a witness must be present, there does not appear to be instructions for the witness on intervening when the “paddling goes overboard.”

He said there have been incidents where a child has required medical treatment as a result of corporal punishment. He gave examples of a child who fainted after being paddled and broke his jaw when he fell.

He said one girl began hemorrhaging after she was paddled, leading to fear her reproductive organs may have been injured.

“Given the prospect of injury or excessive pain, I would put this question to the board: Can you guarantee parents that any paddling their child receives at school will not be overly severe?

He said the Elizabethton City School System is proud to be hailed as an exemplary school district, but Johnson said the school system could further improve its reputation “by making a clean break with this problematic form of discipline.”

In other matters, the board approved a proposed resolution for the Elizabethton City Council expressing the city’s intent to proceed with the project to build eight additional classrooms at T.A. Dugger, construct additional sets of restrooms on both the first and second floors in the new addition and make the entire school compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

The proposed resolution also proposes the project will be funded by the half-cent of the local option sales tax which is currently used to pay for school capital projects. The resolution comes two weeks after the school board and the city council held a joint workshop on school matters.

Director of Schools Corey Gardenhour presented the proposed resolution to the board and said one change has been made at the suggestion of Mayor Curt Alexander. He said the original document had specified that the date for the issuance of new bonds was at the discretion of the city, depending on when the bond market rates were most advantageous, but not later than Aug. 31, 2019. Because of the uncertainty of the market over the next year, it was decided to leave a date out of the proposed resolution. 

Another specific number was left in the document. That number commits the school board to keeping the cost of the project at less than $4 million.

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