Education secretary urges end to corporal punishment in schools

(UPDATED, 10:08 a.m., with comments from state superintendent Sherri Ybarra’s office.)

The outgoing education secretary is urging states to eliminate the practice of corporal punishment in the schools.

“School-sponsored corporal punishment is not only ineffective, it is a harmful practice, and one that disproportionally impacts students of color and students with disabilities,” John King said in a three-page letter, sent Tuesday to the nation’s governors and state school superintendents. “This practice has no place in the public schools of a modern nation that plays such an essential role in the advancement and protection of civil and human rights.”

State superintendent Sherri Ybarra had no position on the letter, and considered the issue a matter of local control, spokesman Jeff Church said Wednesday. Church also said he was unaware of incidents of corporal punishment in Idaho schools.

“It has not been an issue,” Church said.

Gov. Butch Otter’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

In August, Education Week used federal civil rights data to examine the scope and extent of corporal punishment and physical punishment in the nation’s schools. Among the findings:

  • Idaho is one of seven states that has no law banning corporal punishment — and no law expressly permitting it.
  • While Church said he was unaware of any cases of corporal punishment in schools, Education Week cited 2013-14 data that predated Ybarra’s election to office. During that time period, 0.3 percent of Idaho students attended schools that allow corporal punishment.
  • More than 109,000 students in 21 states were physically punished in 2013-14. Corporal punishment is more prevalent in southern states, where the practice is expressly permitted in state law.

While Idaho law is silent on the issue of corporal punishment in the schools, the state’s professional code of ethics for teachers forbids “any act of child abuse, including physical or emotional abuse.”

Meanwhile, Church questioned why King sent his letter to every governor and state schools chief, instead of focusing on states where corporal punishment is more common. The letter, he said, amounted to “another blanket approach from the Department of Education.”