Comptroller to investigate use of corporal punishment - WSMV News 4

TN Comptroller to investigate use of corporal punishment on children with disabilities

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Tennessee State Capitol building (WSMV file photo) Tennessee State Capitol building (WSMV file photo)

The Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury said Thursday that the office will be investigating the use of corporal punishment among students with disabilities after a request from two state senators to research an issue first exposed by the Channel 4 I-Team.

John Dunn, a spokesman for the Comptroller's office, confirmed the department would look into the matter. The Office of Research and Education Accountability will be handling the review.

Two state senators, Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, and Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, asked the state to take a closer look at how corporal punishment is used on children with disabilities.

It's a topic that garnered statewide attention after a Channel 4 I-Team investigation uncovered the disparities within Middle Tennessee school districts.

In May, the I-Team analyzed data from every single school in Middle Tennessee.

Channel 4 found 60 schools where students with disabilities received physical discipline at a higher rate than their peers without disabilities. This data is from one single school year.

In a letter to the state comptroller on Tuesday, state Sens. Dolores Gresham and Rusty Crowe said this:

It appears that children with disabilities are receiving disciplinary action, including corporal punishment, at a much higher rate.

We would appreciate if the Office of Research and Education Accountability could research this.

More than 40 school districts in the Midstate still use corporal punishment.

Sen. Crowe said the state seemed "eager" to investigate the disparities between student populations.

"Is there enough interventional approach taught to teachers and administrators?" Crowe said during a phone interview. "Is there a need for corporal punishment? The whole thing needs to be looked at." 

TN Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville,has already pledged to file a bill that would ban the practice, specifically for students with special needs.

Efforts to ban corporal punishment for all students have failed in previous years.

The review could take months if not longer, according to Dunn. Analysts will collect data and conduct research before releasing a public report.

Parents of students with special needs expressed optimism in response to Thursday's announcement.

"When I found out, I was happy," said Adrian Garcia, whose six-year-old son, Preston, has autism.

Garcia said last year, Preston was hit by his teacher while he was having a meltdown. That teacher resigned immediately and a spokesman for Rutherford County Schools made clear the district did not condone her actions.

But under state law, administrators can use corporal punishment as a form of discipline, even for students with special needs.

The I-Team found policies vary by district. For example, Metro Schools banned the practice years ago. Yet in Marshall County Schools, corporal punishment will remain until the school board decides otherwise.

"Right now that's not big on our radar," said Superintendent Jacob Sorrells during an interview in April.

Garcia said he's already looking beyond the review. He said he hopes lawmakers ban corporal punishment for students like Preston and everyone else, too.

"Channel 4 brought the story," he said. "They helped us."

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