NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Paddling students is legal in Tennessee public schools, but it’s led to criminal charges in Middle Tennessee.
This case comes from Dodson Branch Elementary School. According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), 39-year-old Jackson Patterson paddled a student while the assistant principal, 54-year-old Tena Lynn, watched on Oct. 4.
The student complained about pain in his backside and was then examined at a “medical facility.” A grand jury indicted Patterson for simple assault and Lynn for criminal responsibility. Patterson and Lynn were booked into the Jackson County Jail this week.
District Attorney Jason Lawson said photos of the child’s injuries were reviewed by a grand jury and that review led to the indictment.
In a statement to News 2, Lawson said:
This case began by a referral from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department and the Department of Children’s Services. Upon review of the allegation, my office requested the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to conduct an investigation into the incident. At the completion of the investigation, the case was presented to the Jackson County Grand Jury. The Grand Jury is a group of citizens from the community who review the cases to determine if a charge is warranted.
The Grand Jury reviewed the entire investigation, including the photographs of the child’s injuries. Based on the review, the Grand Jury returned charges of assault based on what occurred. This is an isolated incident and does not indicate that corporal punishment cannot be used when appropriate and not excessive. Law enforcement will review each incident reported and proceed appropriately.
News 2 looked at the policy for paddling students in the Jackson County School District and how often corporal punishment is happening at Tennessee’s schools. One state lawmaker is calling for a ban.
“I think that it’s absolutely the wrong thing to do, to allow corporal punishment in our school systems,” said state Sen. Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville).
Campbell sponsored a bill last year calling for the removal of corporal punishment in Tennessee schools, but it failed. According to Campbell, data shows that corporal punishment has negative outcomes.
“No study, no study that anybody can cite has found that physical punishment enhances developmental health and most child abuse occurs in the context of punishment. It’s very disheartening to see this happen, especially in a state where we’re talking on a regular basis about how the solution to a lot of our problems are through mental health,” said Campbell.
The practice varies from county to county. According to state data from the 2020-21 school year, 45 school districts ban corporal punishment; 33 allow it, but didn’t use it. Another 33 did use it, but the number of cases dropped by more than half in three years to about 1,000.
In Jackson County, the policy allows corporal punishment “only after other less stringent measures have failed or if the conduct of a student is of such nature that corporal punishment is the only reasonable form of punishment under the circumstances.”
The policy also requires the student’s teacher or principal to speak with a child’s parent or guardian before using corporal punishment.
In a statement, the district did not say whether that policy was violated:
Jackson County Schools are aware of the indictment of two employees and will cooperate with all proper authorities pertaining to this matter. Jackson County Schools strive to look out for the well-being of their students, teachers, and staff. We hope this matter is resolved in a timely matter and that we may continue to serve our students to the best of our ability.
Campbell said she hasn’t given up on a statewide ban.
“It’s an uphill battle in our legislature to pass a bill that disallows corporal punishment. I’m going to continue to push that issue, but generally my colleagues on the other side of the isles are not predisposed to vote for it,” said Campbell.