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Paddling in schools is subject of House hearing

03/15/2011 10:50 PM

03/16/2011 6:37 AM

AUSTIN -- A House committee heard pleas Tuesday to ban corporal punishment in Texas schools, with critics denouncing the disciplinary tool as a legalized form of child abuse that leaves lasting emotional scars.

Rep. Alma Allen, D-Houston, who spent nearly four decades in the Houston system school system, is pushing legislation that would ban paddling in schools. One of Allen's leading allies is Rep. Barbara Nash, a freshman Republican lawmaker from Arlington and a former member of the Arlington school board.

"There's enough violence in the world without it coming into your schools," Nash said.

Nash and Allen sit next to each other in the House and teamed up after discovering they share the goal of outlawing corporal punishment.

Nash is a joint author of the proposed ban.

A two-part series in the Star-Telegram this month examined corporal punishment in Texas, one of 20 states that allow school officials to paddle students. More than a dozen opponents of the practice gathered at a rally before the hearing, circulating graphic pictures of paddling injuries.

"Get rid of the paddles," Jimmy Dunne of Houston told members of the House Education Committee. Dunne is a 76-year-old former Houston schoolteacher who founded People Opposed to Paddling three decades ago after he witnessed the paddling of an 11-year-old student.

The two-hour hearing focused on two bills sponsored by Allen.

HB916 calls for a complete ban. HB359, which Allen is offering as a compromise alternative if HB916 stalls, would allow administrators to use corporal punishment only if they first receive a written, signed consent from the parent.

Allen, a former teacher and principal, has waged three previous efforts to pass a ban and acknowledged that she faces uncertainty in her latest effort. Opponents of a statewide ban on corporal punishment said disciplinary decisions should be left in the hands of parents and local districts.

"The parent has the ultimate jurisdiction over the child," said MerryLynn Gerstenschlager of Weatherford, vice president of Texas Eagle Forum, a conservative organization.

A representative who testified on behalf of two major education organizations -- the Texas Association of School Boards and the Texas Association of School Administrators -- said the groups oppose the complete ban but support the alternative measure that effectively gives parents veto power.

"We want to make sure that this is a decision that is made at the local level between the parent and the school district," said Julie Shields, assistant director of governmental relations for the Texas Association of School Boards.

"What is appropriate for one student may not be appropriate for another student." She also stressed: "We do not condone administrators or educators who abuse children."

But Allen told committee members that research has shown that corporal punishment can have lasting consequences and has been linked to anxiety, depression and drug abuse.

Tyler Anastopoulos, a junior at City View High School in Wichita Falls, testified about a paddling he received from an assistant principal for missing detention.

"He told me I had three swats," said the student, who turns 17 on Wednesday.

Anastopoulos said the paddling felt like a "yellow jacket sting." He said the blows resulted in bruises and welts, which required treatment at a hospital. His mother, Angie Herring, also testified at the hearing.

"It just makes me angry," she said. "If you saw what I did that day, you would be outraged. It's just not right."

Committee members, following standard procedure, took no action but are expected to vote later. Allen says she believes she has the votes to pass the proposed ban out of committee but is not sure about its chances on the House floor. She also made it clear that she prefers the complete ban.

"I would be settling if I got" the alternative, she said. "And I would be right back [in the next legislative session] trying to get the other one until I get all the children free."

Dave Montgomery is the

Star-Telegram's Austin bureau chief. 512-476-4294

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