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Sunday, August 01, 2021

UF study condemns physically punishing students, which is still legal in Florida public schools

Back in elementary school, some remember being disciplined with referrals. Others were met with a paddle.

Corporal punishment — most commonly through the use of a paddle — is still legal in Florida public schools, which led a team of UF researchers to conduct a study condemning it.

“By paddling, you are enforcing the idea (in the child’s mind) that adults cannot be trusted,” said Joseph Gagnon, the study’s lead researcher and associate professor of special education in the UF College of Education.

Gagnon said the Southern Poverty Law Center, a Montgomery, Alabama, civil rights and social justice activist organization, was interested in the issue and contacted him to write a report for policy makers, legislators and principals.

Florida is one of 19 states that still allows corporal punishment in public schools, but it is only seen in 28 counties.

“People think, ‘This is how I was raised, so this is OK,’” he said. “The problem with that is that cultural history isn’t research and not a justification to doing something wrong.”

Thirty-six school administrators were interviewed on their opinions regarding corporal punishment.

“Some principals said, ‘Spare the rod, spoil the child,’” Gagnon said.           

Pooja Chandrasekhar, a UF psychology sophomore, said she doesn’t think corporal punishment is necessary.

“If it really is a problem, then they should call the office and send them to the office,” Chandrasekhar, 19, said.

Gagnon said the first step to ending corporal punishment is to ban it first at the district and state levels, then the national level.

“The second step needs to be the education of teachers, principals, and the community to put the word out there,” he said, “because people still think that it works and is necessary.”

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The research had three parts, Gagnon said. The team looked at who was getting punished, while Brianna Kennedy-Lewis, assistant professor in the UF College of Education, interviewed principals and asked why they were using this punishment method. Then Gagnon surveyed schools and asked which proactive approaches they were using to reduce the use of punishment. 

[A version of this story ran on page 5 on 1/23/2015 under the headline “UF study: condemn school paddling" The print version incorrectly said that schools were asked which punishment methods they found effective, when in fact that schools were asked which proactive approaches they were using to reduce the use of punishment.]

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