The Use of Corporal Punishment in Connecticut Schools

Perusing my Google Reader feeds this morning, I came across an article concerning student spankings as a form of school discipline in the Springtown Independent School District, located in Texas. A parent complained that her daughter endured “welts, blisters and bruises from a male administrator’s paddle,” prompting the school board to modify its rules regarding corporal punishment.

Before the complaints… policy only allowed male administrators to paddle male students and female administrators to paddle female students. … Parents must now approve of the use of corporal punishment before it can be administered; the form of punishment is limited to one semester; and if the administrator is of the opposite sex, a same-sex adult must also be present.[1]

Whether or not this is progress or backtracking is the subject of debate. Deborah Sendek, Program Director of the Center for Effective Discipline, characterized this action as “disturbing,” adding, “We think there are much more efficient ways and effective ways to work with kids in terms of discipline problems.”[2]

In 1979, the United States Supreme Court ruled validated the use of corporal punishment in public schools in Ingraham v. Wright. It reasoned that under the common law, “the State itself may impose such corporal punishment as is reasonably necessary ‘for the proper education of the child and for the maintenance of group discipline.’”[3] The Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment applied only in the criminal context, and the Court declined to extend the protection to corporal punishment.

The openness of the public school and its supervision by the community afford significant safeguards against the kinds of abuses from which the Eighth Amendment protects the prisoner. … Public school teachers and administrators are privileged at common law to inflict only such corporal punishment as is reasonably necessary for the proper education and discipline of the child; any punishment going beyond the privilege may result in both civil and criminal liability.[4]

Today, thirty-one (31) states plus the District of Columbia banned corporal punishment in public schools; two states – Iowa and New Jersey – extend the prohibition to use in private schools.

Connecticut banned this practice in 1989 and implemented two laws affecting school discipline. The first, General Statutes § 53-20(b)(1), prohibits the maltreatment, torture, overworking, or cruel or unlawful punishment of a child under the age of 19 by anyone with the control and custody of [that child], in any capacity whatsoever.” Likewise, the Connecticut legislature has codified the use of reasonable force in the public school context:

A teacher or other person entrusted with the care and supervision of a minor child for school purposes may use reasonable force to the extent he reasonably believes such to be necessary to (A) protect himself or others from immediate physical injury, (B) obtain possession of a dangerous instrument or controlled substance, as defined in subdivision (9) of section 21a-240, upon or within the control of such minor, (C) protect property from physical damage or (D) restrain such minor or remove such minor to another area, to maintain order.[5]

However, at this point in time, these statutes are inapplicable to private schools in this State. At one Christian school located in Fairfield County, the student-parent handbook outlines the “controlled conditions” under which paddling of students is permitted.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

If you have any questions regarding school discipline, or any education law matter, contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or by email at JMaya@MayaLaw.com.


[1] “After Complaint, School Relaxes Rule on Opposite Sex Student Spankings,” by Molly McDonough. September 26, 2012: www.abajournal.com/news/article/after_complaint_school_relaxes_rule_on_opposite_sex_student_spankings

[2] “Texas school board changes spanking rules,” by CBS News. September 25, 2012: www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162_57520051/texas-school-board-changes-spanking-rules/

[3] Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 662 (1977).

[4] Id. at 670.

[5] Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-18(6).