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Adult & Child Center for Outcomes Research and Delivery Science

Policy Statement Calls for End of Corporal Punishment in Schools

The American Academy of Pediatrics calls for a ban on corporal punishment in schools and provides guidance for alternative forms of behavior management.

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Written by Melissa Santorelli on November 9, 2023

Mandy Allison, MAEd, MD, MSPH, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Co-Director of the Prevention Research Center for Family and Child Health (PRC) within ACCORDS, is the lead author of a policy statement calling for an end to corporal punishment in schools.

In an updated policy statement released in late August, Allison and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) state that the “the use of corporal punishment in schools is not an effective or ethical method for management of behavior concerns and causes harm to students.”

Corporal punishment, defined as the infliction of pain upon a person’s body as punishment, is still legal in some public and private schools across the United States.

“While 96% of schools report that they don’t use corporal punishment, the ones that do still translate to almost 70,000 students being hit every year,” says Allison, a former member of the AAP Council on School Health Executive Committee. “That number should be zero.”

A previous policy statement was released in 2000, but state and federal advocates desired an updated policy to include additional data, evidence, and references.

Prior to becoming a pediatrician, Allison taught in Mississippi, a state that still legally allows corporal punishment in its schools. “I taught in rural Mississippi where they still allowed paddling, so I also have a personal reason why I cared about this statement,” she says.

Where corporal punishment remains legal

While corporal punishment in schools is less pervasive, it was still legal in 18 states at the time of the policy statement publication.  

In 2022, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming legally allowed corporal punishment in public schools. It is still legal in private schools in all states except Iowa, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York.

This year, Colorado banned all corporal punishment in public schools under HB23-1191. The bill also bans corporal punishment in state-licensed childcare centers, family childcare homes, and specialized group facilities.

“I’d like to shout out the team whose efforts really pushed that through in Colorado,” Allison says. “Pediatrician Lora Melnicoe, among others, was a real advocate for the recent ban of corporal punishment in Colorado.”

Disparities among race and ability

The updated policy statement also highlights the disparities among race and a child’s ability. A Black male student was nearly twice as likely as a white male student (14% vs. 7.5%) to be struck. Black female students are hit three times more than white female student (5.2% vs. 1.7%). Children with a wide range of disabilities, defined as children with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), are also more likely to be struck at school.

AAP emphasizes that “when students with disabilities are subjected to corporal punishment for behaviors associated with their disabilities, they are unjustly and excessively punished and deprived of access to quality education and a safe learning environment.”

Allison and AAP see ending corporal punishment as one of several opportunities to address inequities based on race and disability status to reduce harm to students.

“Corporal punishment doesn’t work,” Allison explains. “There might be some immediate behavior change, out of fear or obedience, but the method of using corporal punishment is not effective long-term, it's applied unequally, and it's not going to fix the underlying problem.”

Positive approaches recommended

The statement recommends schools implement Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, use trauma-informed approaches to understand why certain behaviors are occurring, and utilize restorative justice practices.

In addition to the specific recommendations cited, the statement also provides resources from the Department of Education for creating a supportive school climate.

“We wanted to provide examples of things to advocate for while recognizing that are experts in this field, there are specialists in education who devote their career to studying what works in school settings,” Allison says. “This statement is an interpretation of evidence that exists regarding child development.”

Approaching a student’s behavior with new interventions can lead to better outcomes as a student becomes an adult.

“We can see a causal pathway that link together evidence if you ended corporal punishment, you could increase student engagement, reduce school dropout, and then reduce all of the negative consequences that happen in adult wellness stemming from school dropout,” Allison says.

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Mandy Allison, MAEd, MD, MSPH

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