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KY Board of Education places restrictions on corporate punishment in schools; it creates trauma

The Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) approved a regulation relating to the use of corporal punishment, placing more requirements on its use and urging understanding of the trauma it induces and that it may increase problematic behaviors.

A 1982 Kentucky statute permits the use of corporal punishment by teachers for the purpose of maintaining classroom discipline. In 2019, the legislature passed KRS 158.4416, which requires KDE to provide resources related to, and requires districts to adopt, trauma-informed discipline policies. Trauma-informed discipline policies seek to balance accountability with an understanding of traumatic behavior.
“There is a persistent rub between our work related to trauma-informed discipline and the permissive statute KRS 503.110,” said Matthew Courtney, policy advisor in KDE’s Office of Continuous Improvement and Support (OCIS).

Based on the KBE’s authority to promulgate regulations related to student discipline and student welfare, he said KDE saw fit to bring forward the regulation to place guardrails around corporal punishment and what it looks like in Kentucky.

Courtney clarified it is the stance of KDE that corporal punishment is not a trauma-informed discipline resolution, and should not be used in Kentucky public schools. KDE has actively fought to prohibit corporal punishment for about 30 years.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry suggests that corporal punishment at school may be harmful to students and may increase problematic behaviors, may hurt a student’s ability to self-regulate and make it harder for them to develop trusting and secure relationships with adults. Many other national advocacy organizations have taken a similar stance.

Since corporal punishment cannot be viewed through a trauma-informed lens, KDE applied a harm reduction approach in drafting the new corporal punishment regulation.

 “This should not be seen in any way as an endorsement of corporal punishment from the department or the board,” said Courtney. “This is the next step in what has been a 30-year mission to end corporal punishment in Kentucky.”

The regulation defines corporal punishment as the deliberate infliction of physical pain by any means upon the whole or any part of a student’s body as a penalty or punishment for misbehavior. It also seeks to exempt from corporal punishment students with an Individual Education Plan (IEP), 504 plan and those who are classified as homeless or are in foster care.

If a district chooses to allow corporal punishment, the regulation requires schools to get written consent from a student’s legal guardian within the first five days of the school year if the guardian wishes to allow corporal punishment to be used as a behavior intervention for their child. Before administering corporal punishment, the school must receive an additional verbal consent from the student’s parent or guardian.

The corporal punishment must be administered by a principal or assistant principal and must be in the presence of at least one additional certified staff member who is of the same gender as the student. Each corporal punishment incident must be recorded in the student information system.

After administering corporal punishment, the student must receive a minimum of 30 minutes of counseling provided by the school guidance counselor, school social worker, school psychologist or other qualified mental health professionals by the end of the next school day.

Each local school board must adopt a policy that either prohibits or allows use of corporal punishment. There currently are 156 districts in Kentucky that explicitly prohibit the use of corporal punishment in their district policy manuals. Four school districts have permissive policies and 11 have no clear corporal punishment policy.

“I’m on record as saying I consider this a barbaric practice,” said Education Commissioner Jason E. Glass. “I’m embarrassed that it exists anywhere in the state of Kentucky.”

KBE Chair Lu S. Young said she received several comments encouraging the approval of the regulation.

“We do know that there is an effort afoot to engage the General Assembly in a conversation about revising the statute in such a way to ban corporal punishment entirely,” said Young. “In the absence of such a statute, I applaud this work.”

Now that the regulation is approved by the KBE, it will be filed with the Legislative Research Commission on or before Dec. 15.  Depending on various steps in the legislative review process, the regulation will likely become effective near July 2022.

Kentucky Department of Education

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