A state lawmaker has vowed to file legislation that would ban the use of corporal punishment against students with special needs following an investigation by the Channel 4 I-Team.
“This seems like a no-brainer,” said Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville.
The I-Team found in a single school year students with disabilities received corporal punishment at a higher rate than their peers without disabilities at 60 Midstate schools.
Disparities could be found at dozens of schools, according to data released by the U.S. Office of Civil Rights. The most recent data available is from the 2013-2014 school year.
At Allons Elementary in Overton County, 62.5 percent of students with disabilities received corporal punishment compared to 7.7 percent of students without disabilities.
“It’s absolutely unfair to have students with disabilities punished at a higher level than students without disabilities,” Powell said. “I would say it’s troubling. To say it's shocking, it’s not."
In 2015, Powell introduced legislation that would have banned corporal punishment for all students. The measure never even survived its first subcommittee.
Powell said he hopes lawmakers can agree to at least protect some of the state’s most vulnerable students.
Advocate Sherry Wilds also said she believes the practice should be banned. She argued there could be grounds for discrimination if students are receiving punishment based on behaviors out of their control.
“Even students with a full down meltdown on the autism spectrum, they don't plan that out,” said Wilds, an attorney with Disability Rights Tennessee. “That is not something they should be punished for."
It’s a reality the Garcia family knows all too well.
The Garcias said their son, Preston, was smacked last year by his special education teacher.
They said Preston, who has autism, was in the midst of an episode while in the bathroom.
Preston’s mother, Renee, said the bruise may have faded but the impact remains every day.
She said Preston started experiencing more anxiety, especially when he got into trouble.
“Everything was a battle from there on, everything we did.” Garcia said. “He thought he was going to be smacked.”
The teacher accused of smacking Preston resigned the same day as the incident.
A spokesman for Rutherford County Schools says they do not condone that teacher’s actions. But the district does still use corporal punishment.
Only seven school districts have banned the practice in Middle Tennessee. To see the policies for every school district, click here.
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