NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Corporal punishment is still legal in Tennessee schools. Usually, it’s performed with a paddle.
“Corporal punishment has a time and place if it is administered properly, and the student understands why they’re receiving it, and the corrective action is taken, and the expectations of the student moving forward are given,” Rep. Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka) said.
Cepicky chairs up the House Education Instruction Committee and said state law is written so that parents have to opt their child out of corporal punishment rather than opting them in, though ultimately that choice is left up to the district.
For his own sake, Cepicky still fondly (note: sarcasm) remembers the few times teachers paddled him. He even remembers what they named the paddle.
“When I went to school, I got paddled by Roscoe, right? Everybody had a name for their paddle,” Cepicky said. “I got Roscoe one time because I smarted off to one of my teachers. I got Roscoe one time. Once. I understand that I crossed a line. I never crossed that line again.”
It’s an issue that has come up in the past.
“I’m actually appalled that corporal punishment is even thought about in our schools,” Sen. Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville) said.
Campbell actually co-sponsored legislation to outlaw the practice back in 2021.
“When we address problems with violence, we’re modeling violence as an answer to solving problems,” she said. “That is problematic later on in life when kids can get a hold of guns when they’re older, and they’re going through their frontal lobe development.”
The practice varies from county to county. In fact, every year, the Department of Health asks each school district to submit data.
During the 2020-2021 school year, 45 schools reported banning corporal punishment while 33 reported allowing it but having no instances of it happening.
Another 33 reported a combined total of 1,049 instances.
The district with the highest by far was Union City in northwest Tennessee, which reported a total of 228 corporal punishments. It has a total enrollment of 1,604 students. That puts it at roughly one punishment for every seven students.
The only other district with more than 100 instances was Tipton County, just north of Memphis, which had 124.
But Tipton County reported a total enrollment of 10,393, putting it at a rate of roughly one punishment for every 84 students.
Union City Schools did not comment for this story but did point out a valid issue with the data set over the phone.
Thirty-seven districts did not send data. There’s no entity requiring it.
“It’s alarming, and I know that in a lot of these instances, we have situations where that’s being abused in and of itself,” Campbell said. “People are taking that too far.”
Over the three-year period ending in 2021, reported instances of corporal punishment have actually gone down from over 2,537 to 1,702 to 1,049.
But the data hasn’t been updated to reflect last year and this year yet.
“I think COVID really hurt our kids mentally, and we’re starting to see that with the amount of kids that are lashing out at our schools, at other students, at teachers – teacher assaults are at an all-time high right now,” Cepicky said. “We have got to figure out a way to get this under control.”
There’s a fairly universal belief that discipline is quickly becoming a problem.
“Those disciplinary problems are not the root of the problem,” Campbell said. “Those are the symptoms of a greater problem.”
That greater problem, according to both Cepicky and Campbell, originates at home.
“A lot of these kids are coming from environments where sometimes they don’t have enough food to eat, they don’t have stable home environments,” Campbell said. “We need to really work on building support systems around our schools.”
“Parents have to assume a greater responsibility in the discipline of their children,” Cepicky said, separately. If you’re relying on the schools to do it, we’re losing the battle.
“The school’s job is to educate your child.”