V. Prevalence of Corporal Punishment in US Public Schools

Data on Corporal Punishment

223,190 students nationwide received corporal punishment at least once in the 2006-2007 school year, according to data from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the United States Department of Education.174

Figure 1

© Human Rights Watch, 2008.

While corporal punishment is legal in 21 states,175 Table 1 shows that it is used more heavily in some states than others. In Texas alone, OCR data show that 49,197 students were subjected to corporal punishment during the 2006-2007 school year, more than in any other state.176 In Mississippi, 7.5 percent of schoolchildren were paddled at least once during that same school year, the highest percentage in the nation.177

Table 1: Nationwide Prevalence of Corporal Punishment


Number of Students Paddled During the 2006-2007 School Year


Percentage of Students Paddled During the 2006-2007 School Year









































Source: United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, “2006 Civil Rights Data Collection.”

Corporal punishment was widely accepted in US public schools in the latter part of the 19th century and the early 20th century.178 While New Jersey banned corporal punishment by statute in 1867,179 many other US states, including Michigan, Connecticut, and Nevada, did not enact a ban until the late 1980s or early 1990s.180 In the present decade, the number of students subjected to corporal punishment in US public schools has been steadily dropping. OCR data indicate that 342,038 children in US public schools were paddled in the 2000-2001 school year;181 by the 2004-2005 school year, the figure had dropped to 272,028 students.182 In 2006-2007, the most recent school year for which data are available, the numbers fell to 223,190.183 Any level of corporal punishment is too high; the fact that the numbers are dropping shows that districts still using paddling are becoming the exception, making it all the more imperative that they change their discipline policies.

Boys are subjected to corporal punishment more than girls: nationwide, boys make up 78.3 percent of those paddled.184 African-American students are paddled at more than twice the rate than might be expected given their percentage of the student population: African Americans constitute 17.1 percent of the nationwide student population, but 35.6 percent of those paddled.185 Though girls as a group are paddled less than boys, African-American girls are more than twice as likely to be subjected to paddling as their white counterparts.186

Special education students187 are also subjected to corporal punishment, even though the behavior that leads teachers or administrators to beat them may result from their disabilities rather than any lack of discipline.188 Nationwide, OCR data indicate that 41,972 special education students received corporal punishment in the 2006-2007 school year.189 In the two states examined in detail for this report, Mississippi and Texas, large numbers of special education students were among those receiving corporal punishment. In Mississippi, 5,831 special education students were beaten in the 2006-2007 school year.190 In Texas, 10,222 special education students were beaten, amounting to approximately one-fifth of the total number of students who were beaten statewide.191

While these figures and rates may already appear quite high, they do not reflect the full extent of the problem. First, the data record the number of students hit each year, not the number of incidents.192 In other words, the data show that 223,190 individual students were beaten in the relevant school year, but do not show how many incidents of corporal punishment occurred. Because many students likely were beaten more than once in a school year—a reasonable assumption given the evidence collected from our interviewees—the overall number of beatings administered each year undoubtedly is far higher.

The data also very likely undercount the number of students beaten each year because some school districts fail to report all incidents to the federal government. Corporal punishment is often seen as a quick form of discipline: a former high school teacher recalled that “paddling was just a fast way to deal with it and not write it down.”193 Records are not always kept for corporal punishment: a high school teacher noted that discipline is “completely haphazard … many teachers don’t even bother with writing referrals anymore.”194 One superintendent of a major Mississippi school district told us the reported numbers were low:

[W]e probably do it twice as much as reported…. [T]here is no documentation you have to send to the central office to say that you did it…. [It’s] an option where you don’t have to do so much documentation, It’s much easier than signing the suspension form and giving it to the parents or any of that. I’m speaking realistically.195

Incidents of corporal punishment may not be recorded when they do not take place in the principal’s office (or the school’s “main” office). A Mississippi teacher told us:

I know that there are paddlings that aren’t reported…. A concrete example: during my planning period, I spent a considerable amount of time in this one teacher’s class. I’ve seen the teacher ask students to get the paddle from the corner, wait outside for him, the students are paddled, they come in, and class resumes. No paperwork is filled out. I’m sure if you ask teachers, they wouldn’t be able to tell you how many students they paddled at the end of the day.196

Informal referrals from teachers to coaches might not be recorded. Another Mississippi teacher reported that “[w]here the coach is giving licks, the coaches don’t report to the office. It’s sort of part of the coaching, [the coach’s] rights, which contributes to the lack of data on corporal punishment.”197 The lack of record-keeping may be particularly evident when students are paddled in hallways or classrooms. One former Mississippi teacher, who frequently saw her principal administer corporal punishment in the hallway, noted, “Oh yeah, he [the principal] never reported it. He never took names; he didn’t know who all these kids were.”198 It is unlikely such instances of informal, unregulated corporal punishment are recorded by the administrator upon return to his or her office.

Constant and High Levels of Paddling in Some Schools

Routine, high levels of paddling in schools can indicate a threatening, violent environment.199 A former assistant principal in charge of discipline at a middle school in Meridian, Mississippi, recalled that he received 19-23 referrals for paddling every day; one day he had 37 students sent to his office to receive a beating.200 Interviewees described long lines of students waiting to get paddled outside the principal’s office.201 One teacher noted his elementary students were punished so often it had become routine: “The kids would put their hands on the back of the chair, stick their butts out, and the principal would start hitting.”202

Corporal punishment is so commonplace in certain public schools in Texas and Mississippi that students reported high levels of paddling in casual tones. A high school boy in Texas recalled, “I was paddled in elementary, yeah. Too many times to count.”203 A Mississippi high school girl observed that she was paddled “at least three times a week” in the ninth and tenth grades.204 She estimated that “at least 60” students are paddled daily at her school, noting, “A lot of kids get paddled. Every class block you will hear a list of students being called [to the office for paddling] on the intercom.”205

We received reports of students of all ages receiving corporal punishment, from pre-kindergarten to high school. A Mississippi middle school boy recalled receiving three blows as a kindergartener for making another child eat dirt in the playground.206 Another Mississippi kindergartener was beaten three times for stepping on another student’s feet.207 An east Texas kindergartener was paddled for pulling a chair out from underneath another student.208 Among our interviewees, paddling was no less common in older grades. We received reports of paddlings administered to a twelfth-grade girl in Mississippi,209 an eleventh-grade girl in Texas,210 and a 17-year-old boy in Mississippi.211 A former teacher recalled that one of her high school students was paddled despite being “a really big kid … [for whom] the paddle just seemed kind of silly.”212

174 US Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR), “Civil Rights Data Collection 2006,” March 26, 2008, (accessed August 8, 2008). The US Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, has been conducting a biennial survey of the nation’s public elementary and secondary schools since 1968. The Civil Rights Data Collection is conducted pursuant to 34 C.F.R. Section 100.6(b) of the Department of Education regulation implementing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Information is collected on enrollment and discipline, among other topics, by race and by gender. The data collection is a rolling stratified sample of approximately 6,000 districts and 60,000 schools within those districts, which facilitates state and national projections of data. The 2006 Civil Rights Data Collection contains information on 5,929 public school districts and 62,484 schools in those school districts, and provides information reflecting the 2006-2007 school year. OCR, “About the Data,” (accessed August 8, 2008); OCR, “Data Collection,” (accessed August 8, 2008); Human Rights Watch telephone interview with an official at the US Department of Education who chose to remain anonymous, Washington, DC, April 15, 2008.

175 Corporal punishment is permitted in some form in Alabama (Ala. Code § 16-28A-1), Arizona (Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 15-843B(2)), Arkansas (Ark. Code Ann. § 6-18-503b.1), Colorado (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 22-32-109.1), Florida (Fla. Stat. § 1003.32), Georgia (Ga. Code Ann. § 20-2-730, 20-2-731), Idaho (Idaho Code Ann. § 33-1224), Indiana (Ind. Code § 31-34-1-15), Kansas (Kan. Stat. Ann. § 21-3609), Kentucky (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 503.110), Louisiana (La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 17:223), Mississippi (Miss. Code Ann. § 37-11-57), Missouri (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 160-261), New Mexico (N.M. Stat. § 22-5-4-3), North Carolina (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 115C-391), Ohio (Ohio Rev. Code § 3319.41), Oklahoma (Okla. Stat. tit. 21, § 844), South Carolina (S.C. Code Ann. § 59-63-260), Tennessee (Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-6-4103), Texas (Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 9.62), and Wyoming (Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 21-4-308). Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, “North America: summary of legal status of corporal punishment of children,” June 2007, (accessed July 18, 2008). There is debate among scholars and advocates as to whether 21 or 22 states in the US currently permit corporal punishment, in part because there is some controversy as to whether certain states have bans on corporal punishment, or whether it has merely fallen out of use. For instance, both Rhode Island state law and the policy manuals of each Rhode Island school district are silent on the issue; however, Rhode Island school districts can only act pursuant to positive legal authorization. Thus, corporal punishment is essentially outlawed in Rhode Island. Parkinson, “Federal Court Treatment of Corporal Punishment in Public Schools: Jurisprudence that is Literally Shocking to the Conscience,” South Dakota Law Review, p. 279, footnote 30. In another example, South Dakota Codified Law 13-32-2 is ambiguous, stating that “superintendents, principals, supervisors, and teachers and their aids and assistants, have the authority, to use the physical force that is reasonable and necessary for supervisory control over students.” However, legislative history for this provision shows that the intent was “to repeal the authorization to administer physical punishment or use of violence in correcting a child.” South Dakota HB-1142, 1990, on file with Human Rights Watch; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with an assistant attorney general for South Dakota (responsible for overseeing education in the state of South Dakota), July 14, 2008.

176 OCR, “Civil Rights Data Collection 2006.”

177 Ibid.

178 Andre R. Imbrogno, “Corporal Punishment in America’s Public Schools and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: A Case for Nonratification,” Journal of Law and Education, vol. 29, no. 2 (April 2000), p. 128 (giving an historical overview of the use of corporal punishment in the United States); Carl F. Kaestle, “Social Change, Discipline, and the Common School in Early Nineteenth-Century America,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, vol. 1, no. 1 (1978), pp. 3-5 (discussing the evolving attitudes to school discipline in the 19th century); Barbara Finkelstein, “A Crucible of Contradictions: Historical Roots of Violence against Children in the United States,” History of Education Quarterly, vol. 40, no. 1 (2000), pp. 1-4 (discussing the prevalence of violence against children in the United States generally in the 19th century).

179 NJ Permanent Statutes, Education 18A:6-1.

180 The Center for Effective Discipline, “U.S.: Corporal Punishment and Paddling Statistics by State and Race, States Banning Corporal Punishment,” 2008, (accessed August 8, 2008).

181 OCR, “Elementary and Secondary School Survey 2000,” (accessed August 8, 2008).

182 OCR, “Civil Rights Data Collection 2004,” (accessed August 8, 2008).

183 OCR, “Civil Rights Data Collection 2006.”

184 Ibid.

185 Ibid.

186 Ibid. (In the 13 states that paddle more than 1,000 students per year, 0.384 times as many white girls were paddled as might be expected given their percentage of the student population, whereas 0.795 times as many African-American girls were paddled, a disproportionality of 2.06.).

187 Defined here (and by the OCR) as students who qualify for federal services under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, sec. 504 (29 USCA Section 701 et seq.) (“The term ‘disability’ means (A) except as otherwise provided in subparagraph (B), a physical or mental impairment that constitutes or results in a substantial impediment to employment; or (B) for the purposes of sections 701, 711, and 712 of this title and subchapters II, IV, V, and VII of this chapter, a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities”) or under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004, sec. 602 (PL 108-446) (20 U.S.C. 1400) (“(A) In general. The term ‘child with a disability’ means a child (i) with mental retardation, hearing impairments (including deafness), speech or language impairments, visual impairments (including blindness), serious emotional disturbance (referred to in this title as ‘emotional disturbance’), orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments, or specific learning disabilities; and (ii) who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services. (B) Child aged 3–9 — The term ‘child with a disability’ for a child aged 3 through 9 (or any subset of that age range, including ages 3 through 5), may, at the discretion of the State and the local educational agency, include a child — (i) experiencing developmental delays, as defined by the State and as measured by appropriate diagnostic instruments and procedures, in 1 or more of the following areas: physical development; cognitive development; communication development; social or emotional development; or adaptive development; and (ii) who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services.”).

188 See Chapter VIII: The Use of Corporal Punishment against Specific Groups for further discussion of the use of corporal punishment against these students.

189 OCR, “Civil Rights Data Collection 2006.” (39,093 of these students qualify for IDEA, and 2,879 qualify for section 504).

190 Ibid.

191 Ibid.

192 OCR, “Civil Rights Data Collection Individual School Report: ED102, Reporting Requirement,” March 31, 2005, (accessed August 8, 2008), p. 4 (“Enter the number of students who … received corporal punishment. Count each student only once regardless of the number of times punished.”); Human Rights Watch telephone interview with an official at the US Department of Education who chose to remain anonymous, Washington, DC, April 15, 2008 (reporting that the OCR does not have the resources to perform external audits of the school districts’ reports, but noting that they do check that a district does not report more corporal punishment than enrollment, which would indicate that a school district reported number of instances, as opposed to number of students).

193 Human Rights Watch interview with Tiffany Bartlett (real name used with consent), Austin, Texas, February 22, 2008 (referring to a school district in the Mississippi Delta). Students report similar information. See, for example, Human Rights Watch interview with Peter E., recent high school graduate, Beaumont, Texas, February 19, 2008 (noting that at his high school, “Typically we weren’t written up for licks. It doesn’t end up in the office, no one knows what you did.”).

194 Human Rights Watch interview with Chantal K., Mississippi Delta, December 3, 2007.

195 Human Rights Watch interview with a superintendent of a mid-sized urban district in the Mississippi Delta, December 12, 2007.

196 Human Rights Watch interview with Brad G., Mississippi Delta, December 12, 2007.

197 Human Rights Watch interview with Mei N., Mississippi Delta, December 4, 2007.

198 Human Rights Watch interview with Tiffany Bartlett (real name used with consent), Austin, Texas, February 22, 2008 (referring to a school district in the Mississippi Delta).

199 Pinheiro, World Report on Violence against Children, p.129 (discussing the educational environment produced by physical punishment, and arguing that, in terms of systemic violence, “the behaviour of the school heads, teachers, and other school staff is also critical. If they engage in abusive behavior and show disrespect for the rights, comfort and safety of others, then children will follow their example.”).

200 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ralph McLaney (real name used with consent), Alabama, October 26, 2007; follow-up telephone interview, Alabama, November 6, 2007.

201 Human Rights Watch interview with Brad G., teacher, Mississippi Delta, December 12, 2007; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Johnny McPhail (real name used with consent), parent, Oxford, Mississippi, November 14, 2007.

202 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Chris Myers Asch (real name used with consent), a former elementary school teacher in the Mississippi Delta, Washington, DC, December 19, 2007.

203 Human Rights Watch interview with Blake C., Beaumont, Texas, February 19, 2008.

204 Human Rights Watch interview with Kimberly P., Mississippi Delta, December 4, 2007.

205 Ibid.

206 Human Rights Watch interview with Ben H., rural east Mississippi, December 11, 2007 (interviewed in the presence of family).

207 Human Rights Watch interview with Tamika C., then in fifth grade, rural Mississippi, December 10, 2007.

208 Human Rights Watch interview with Ruth W., parent, Austin, Texas, February 22, 2008 (referring to events in Beaumont, Texas).

209 Human Rights Watch interview with Brittany Y., who recently left high school, rural Mississippi, December 11, 2007.

210 Human Rights Watch interview with Shannon Q., Midland, Texas, February 25, 2008 (interviewed in the presence of another witness).

211 Human Rights Watch interview with Beverly Shields (real name used with consent), parent, Cumberland, Mississippi, December 11, 2007 (referring to events in a suburban Mississippi district).

212 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Lanesra P., Rochester, NY, November 9, 2007.