Video of Georgia principal paddling student reignites punishment debate

Shana Marie Perez, of Covington, Ga. posted a video on Facebook showing the principal preparing to paddle her son without her consent on Wednesday.

Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor
A map and desks sit in an empty classroom on campus at the University of North Carolina on March 30, 2016, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

A Georgia mother’s video of a school principal paddling her 5-year-old son had led to outrage and a renewed debate about corporal punishment as a means to discipline children.

A majority of parents say they approve of spanking their kids, a 2014 survey shows, though these numbers have declined somewhat in the last two decades.

The video’s release comes amid concerns that despite parents’ belief in spanking their own kids, research has pointed to spanking as impacting children’s ability to learn and triggering more aggressive behavior.

While many states have banned the practice in school, 19 states located primarily in the South and West still allow it, the Atlantic reports.

For Shana Marie Perez of Covington, Ga., this choice wasn’t voluntary. "I couldn’t do anything to stop them," Ms. Perez wrote in a post accompanying one video posted on Facebook on Wednesday.

The video shows her son crying and attempting to resist as the principal of Jasper Primary School holds a wooden paddle.

The Jasper County School District, located southeast of Atlanta, said in a statement that it was aware of the incident but couldn't comment on it, citing guidelines on student privacy.

In a statement to NBC News, the district noted, "When corporal punishment is used, it is with parental consent. The district is investigating the incident and looking into its discipline policies at this time."

Advocates for child welfare also point to numbers suggesting that corporal punishment may be disproportionately applied to students with disabilities and African-American students, which can have an impact on their progress in school.

On Facebook, Ms. Perez, the Georgia mom, wrote that the dispute with the school's principal came after she had been arrested for her son's truancy and was out of jail on bond. Her son had missed 18 days of school because of an unspecified medical condition, local station WXIA reports.

She told WXIA she believed she had signed a form prohibiting the use of corporal punishment on her son, but administrators disputed that.

Some educators – including those who were punished physically in school themselves – say the practice can have long-term impacts on students.

"We were given swats for horse playing. For years, I was still angry…. I still saw that teacher [and] it still bothered me," Rafranz Davis, executive director of professional and digital learning at the Lufkin Independent School District in Texas told the Atlantic in December 2015.

She's concerned about a long-running traditional of corporal punishment as a "Southern thing to do."

"I hated it and didn't [do the same] with my own children. I believe it's a practice meant to keep people of less power in check," Ms. Davis says.

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