On Nov. 13, Rep. Katherine Waldron (D-District 39) filed a House bill that would ban corporal punishment for students with disabilities in Florida public K-12 schools and require parental consent in all cases.
House Bill 439 is a product of two years of work from Florida Student Policy Forum member and UF junior Graham Bernstein as well as UF and FSPF alumn Konstantin Nakov. The students first began researching the topic in 2020 and brought the issue to Waldron last year.
Bernstein and Nakov found 717 students in Florida public K-12 schools were paddled, spanked or otherwise struck by a teacher or principal during the 2021-22 school year. These instances occurred largely — but not exclusively — in the 19 school districts that still allow the practice.
A disproportionate brunt of corporal punishment fell on students with disabilities, with students served under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act making up 15% of students in the 2017-18 school year but 22.3% of corporal punishment recipients.
In Lafayette County, 17 of the 25 corporal punishment usages in the 2022-23 school year were on students covered under IDEA.
Tweaking the bill to tailor its effects to disabled children made it more powerful for many people, specifically Republicans, Waldron said.
“Disabled children are the ones that suffer the most from corporal punishment,” Waldron said, “so we’re just trying to start there and get that taken care of.”
Rep. Mike Beltran, the bill’s first co-sponsor, is a Republican representative from District 70.
In a Republican-supermajority controlled Florida Senate, achieving bi-partisan sponsorship is a good sign for the bill, Waldron said.
Beltran decided to co-sponsor because he doesn’t trust the school discipline system with the power to hit children, he said. Though he doesn’t support corporal punishment at all, the practice is especially dangerous in school systems, where it opens the door for abuse, he said.
He bases his decisions to co-sponsor bills on policy, not the partisanship of their sponsors, he said.
“It’s not based on whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican, it’s based on the quality and the ideas in the bill,” he said. “I don’t think the teacher should be hitting the students.”
The bill is the first piece of legislation created by FSPF to get filed in the Florida Senate. The achievement goes to prove the idea the club was founded on — that students can and should get involved in state policy in a common-sense way, Bernstein said.
“At the very least, we hope to start a conversation that … you can bring people from different paths of the spectrum to try to do something,” he said. “To give a human answer — yeah, I’m excited.”
The bill only has two references, which is a good sign, especially for a Democrat-sponsored House bill, Beltran said.
Waldron is in the process of meeting with fellow representatives to find more co-sponsors and feels optimistic about gaining more support in the coming weeks, she said. Bernstein will visit Tallahassee Dec. 7 to drum up support among potential Senate sponsors and House co-sponsors.
The bill only has two references, which is a good sign, especially for a Democrat-sponsored House bill, Beltran said. The bill is in the Education Quality Subcommittee, after which it would move to the Education & Employment Committee.
Contact Zoey Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @zoeythomas39.
Zoey Thomas is a second-year media production major and the university administration reporter for The Alligator. She previously wrote for the metro desk. Other than reporter, Zoey's titles include espresso connoisseur, long-distance runner and Wes Anderson appreciator.