By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - School administrators will be allowed to paddle students of the opposite sex under a rule approved unanimously Monday night by the school board in the North Texas community of Springtown.
Superintendent Michael Kelley said Tuesday the new policy would ensure both male and female students are treated equally since there are not enough administrators of both genders in some schools in Springtown, which has a population of about 2,600.
Under the previous policy, corporal punishment could only be carried out by an administrator who was of the same gender as the student. The new policy says that a school official of the same gender as the student must be in the room where the paddling takes place and that parents must provide written permission for their child to be paddled.
The punishment involves striking students on their clothed rear with a wooden paddle.
"We don't have a very large district and in our middle school there is only an assistant principal, who is a female," Kelley said. "If the old policy remains in place, then the parents of the boys at the middle school would not be able to request corporal punishment."
Texas is one of 19 states that allow public schools to administer corporal punishment, according to the Center for Effective Discipline. Even in those states, most urban schools have banned the practice and most districts that paddle kids are, like Springtown, small or rural communities. Texas allows parents to opt out of corporal punishment of their children.
In Springtown, which is northwest of Fort Worth, the paddling of two high school girls by a male assistant principal earlier this month prompted the change in policy. Kelley apologized to the girls during Monday night's school board meeting that their paddling violated the policy in place at the time.
It is not unusual for parents in Springtown to contact the school to request paddling for their children for offenses like using profanity or cheating on exams, Kelley said.
Jimmy Dunne, who heads the Texas-based group People Against Paddling Students, called Springtown's new policy "barbaric," and said he hopes it sparks debate that prompts Texas and other states to consider banning the practice.
"Children should not be hit with boards; it is legalized child abuse," Dunne said.
The Texas Association of School Boards recommends that corporal punishment be administered only by an administrator who is the same sex as the student.
Kelley said that corporal punishment works in small towns like Springtown because of the relationship between the district and the parents, most of whom have known each other all their lives.
"They're sitting beside that guy in church and they see that principal in the grocery store or at the restaurant," he said. "They have a sense of trust. So they'll call up and tell us, when their child commits an infraction, those parents will call up and tell that principal, 'Rather than in-school suspension, why don't you just give 'em a swat?'"
(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and; Cynthia Osterman)