I often get questions from parents regarding the current state of corporal punishment, both in Arkansas and across the country. Corporal punishment in public schools, as antiquated as it may seem to some, is still alive and well in 19 states, with Arkansas being one of them. Though many education and child advocacy groups continue to fight against the use of corporal punishment, courts continue to uphold it.
Last month, in Clayton ex rel. Hamilton v. Tate County School District, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals became the latest federal appellate court to uphold the constitutionality of corporal punishment. The plaintiff, an eighth-grade student at Independence High School in rural Mississippi, was struck three times on the buttocks with a paddle by the school’s assistant principal, which left visible bruises. A few seconds after being paddled, the plaintiff fainted and fell onto the concrete floor in the school’s hallway, shattering five of his teeth and breaking his jaw. The plaintiff, through his mother, filed a lawsuit against the school district and the assistant principal, arguing that the excessive paddling was a violation of the plaintiff’s Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The federal district court dismissed the complaint, and the plaintiff appealed.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, with little discussion, refused to revisit the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651 (1977), in which the Supreme Court held the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment does not apply to corporal punishment in schools. The plaintiff argued that changing societal norms warrants a reconsideration of that ruling, but the Fifth Circuit disagreed. The Court explained, as did the Supreme Court in Ingraham, that though changing societal norms may affect whether a particular form of punishment is “cruel and unusual” in other contexts, it will not affect whether the Eighth Amendment applies to corporal punishment in public schools. The Fifth Circuit also rejected the plaintiff’s claim that school district’s actions violated the Equal Protection Clause by subjecting boys to corporal punishment more than girls.
As far as the courts are concerned, corporal punishment is here to stay.