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Support for a smack on bottom

Jennifer Faliero asks fellow School Board members to join her in making a strong statement in favor of paddling.

Published August 13, 2003

TAMPA - Back in May, School Board member Jennifer Faliero was in the office of an elementary school when an 8-year-old boy came in, cursing and screaming, after he had been kicked out of class.

Three adults tried to control him.

"He was cursing out the assistant principal," she said. "The sheriff (deputy) had to be called to restrain this kid."

What he needed, she thinks, was a healthy smack on his bottom. The episode made her start thinking about discipline problems that exist in many schools.

To that end, Faliero asked her fellow board members Tuesday to join her in making a strong statement in favor of paddling students in some cases.

State law and school district policy allow corporal punishment, but few if any Hillsborough principals actually spank children for fear of lawsuits, said deputy superintendent Randy Poindexter.

Several years ago, two local principals were added to the state's child abuse list for spanking children. Since then, other forms of discipline such as timeout, work detail and detention have taken the place of paddling.

"We strongly recommend to principals you consider every type of punishment for a child," Poindexter said. "If you paddle a child and bruise him, you run the risk of being charged with child abuse."

Faliero thinks more principals would use corporal punishment if they felt support from the School Board.

"You can't let the threat of a lawsuit cripple you," she said. "The children have control of the schools. They have no respect and they're getting that from their homes."

Not all principals, however, want more freedom to paddle.

Susan Turner, principal of Mintz Elementary in Brandon, has paddled a couple of students throughout her career, but is philosophically opposed to it.

"It's a difficult issue, it really is," she said. "I just hate to hit children."

Faliero made her request at a workshop where board members discussed the hundreds of children who are expelled, suspended and transferred because of behavior problems.

Although some of her fellow board members said they approve of paddling, no one seemed willing to go any further to support the practice.

Glenn Barrington said corporal punishment is a good form of discipline because it is immediate and it hurts, physically and emotionally. But he thinks the decision to paddle should remain in the hands of the principal.

"They do put themselves at risk," he said.

Doris Ross Reddick said she worries that if more principals paddle children, their punishment could be too harsh, inconsistent and even misused against certain students.

"I have mixed feelings," she said.

Faliero would like to see paddling used in the younger grades. At the very least, she said, she wants to get parent feedback on the idea of paddling as punishment.

April Schiff, a South Tampa parent, is not too keen on the idea.

"I'm a mother of three children and I choose not to spank them," she said. "I don't think I want the schools paddling them either."

Faliero said if some parents knew their little ones might get paddled, they would perhaps start teaching them how to behave and respect adults at school. Maybe the number of problem children would decline.

Faliero, who was elected last year and is the only board member with school-age children, said she will not be dissuaded from her push for corporal punishment despite a lack of support from her fellow board members.

The public needs to realize how disruptive some children are in school, Faliero said. "If nothing else, I think it's going to raise awareness."

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