The following is an excerpt from a report on the pros and cons of corporal punishment, prepared by the legal counsel of the American Association of Christian Schools and then, somewhat surprisingly, posted on the Internet:
“Johnny Problem is a 5th grader at First Christian School who truly lives up to his name. … Johnny’s teacher, Mr. Woodshed, has decided that corporal punishment is in order. One day in math class, while Johnny is talking to the new student behind him, Mr. Woodshed tells Johnny to come to the front of the room. When Johnny reaches the designated spot, Mr. Woodshed produces a thick metal slide rule from the top drawer of his desk and tells Johnny to ‘grab his ankles.’ In front of the class, Mr. Woodshed administers three swats and tells Johnny to go back to his seat and stop talking. What kind of grade would you give Mr. Woodshed in his handling of this situation?”
The particulars of a non-hypothetical incident are usually far less charming, as, perhaps, the staff of David Lipscomb High School recently realized. On March 5, 17-year-old Jordan Fox and his mother filed a lawsuit in Davidson County Circuit Court against the private, Church of Christ-affiliated school over an alleged March 2009 paddling incident.
Fox and his mother, Xenie, allege that Glenn “Coach Mac” McCadams punished Fox by hitting him “multiple times in his low back and buttocks area, using a wooden paddle with such force that Jordan suffered severe bruising to the point of bleeding, blood blisters and a serious injury to his lower back.” The suit goes on to say that Fox, then 16 years old and a member of the golf team, was so seriously hurt that he was unable to compete for the rest of the school year.
McCadams has been with the school for nearly 30 years and serves as its head football coach, athletic director and dean of students.
Lipscomb has yet to file a response to the allegations, but many may be surprised to learn that what’s at issue here is not what McCadams allegedly did, but how he allegedly did it, and how severely. That’s because at Lipscomb — as in many other local schools — corporal punishment is considered completely fair play, or at least it has been very recently.
The 2008-2009 Lipscomb Student Handbook included this: “Many forms of discipline are used in an effort to deal with each individual properly. Corporal punishment may be used in the high school as an alternative discipline. Privilege suspension may be used when privileges are abused.” This year’s handbook omits the second sentence.
While hitting, paddling, spanking, swatting, and any other applicable euphemism are banned in all public schools in 30 states, the state of Tennessee, along with 19 others, still allows it “in a reasonable manner” under the provisions of the School Discipline Act. Local public school districts in Tennessee may, of course, ban corporal punishment district-wide, as Metro Nashville Public Schools did in 2002. Of the 13 school districts surrounding Nashville, only Williamson County employs a ban.
Tennessee ranks sixth in paddling
According to statistics from the Department of Education, among all states, Tennessee’s public schools ranked sixth for the number of paddlings administered in the 2006-2007 school year, with nearly 15,000 incidents reported. More than 3,600 of those involved students with disabilities. Given the relative commonness of the practice, the concept of “reasonable” is far too murky a legal standard, said Nadine Block, executive director of the Center for Effective Discipline and co-founder of the National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools.
“I’ve spoken to parents who’ve looked at their children’s injuries and said, ‘If I had done this at home, I’d be in jail or I’d have my child taken away,’ ” she said.
Indeed, the Tennessee Department of Child Services — which does not condone corporal punishment in schools or at home — recommends that parents who choose to use corporal punishment never use any objects.
Only two states — Iowa and New Jersey — expressly forbid corporal punishment in private schools. And while there isn’t any collected data on how common the practice is among private schools, The City Paper found that a number of Nashville area private schools are still paddling. Most were Christian schools, specifically Baptist, Evangelical, and Church of Christ schools, since the Nashville Catholic Diocese, like all other American Catholic dioceses, explicitly bans the practice.
Most research suggests that spanking is at best ineffective and at worst, very harmful. Most public school districts and independent schools have chosen to err on the side of evidence-based punishment.
As for the current suit: Both Fox’s attorney, Sean Martin, and Lipscomb High Principal Mark Pugh, declined to comment. McCadams himself, however, did speak to The City Paper.
“It’s present in many situations in education where we’re sometimes subjected to unbelievable situations just doing our jobs,” he said before deciding not to elaborate any further.