Sparing the Rod 

School board ends spanking, debates new schools and mergers.

"When did our society get smarter than God?" asked Peabody Elementary School teacher Terrence Brittenum, referencing the biblical foundations for corporal punishment.

Brittenum and other corporal-punishment proponents watched in amazement on Monday night as the disciplinary policy fell by a vote of 5 to 4 in favor of alternative methods to begin July 1st of next year. The vote came after 10 months of debate between current board members, board candidates, and numerous articles, opinions, and studies by nationwide advocates. For Lora Jobe, the resolution's author and departing school-board member, the vote was a "victory for children."

"After so many years on the board," said Jobe, "I continue to be optimistic about change. To the proponents of corporal punishment, I say let's be forward-thinking. It's like using a medical model: You want the best treatment that is readily available right now, not what was good years ago."

Board member Deni Hirsh also dispelled two long-held but mistaken tenets of the plan that had been lauded by proponents. "If you look at the current policy, nowhere does it say that parents are allowed to opt out or that corporal punishment will be used as a last resort," said Hirsh. The original policy was adopted in 1958 and revised in 1982 and calls for other punishment to be tried before resorting to paddling. It does not specify that paddling be used only as a "last resort," as had been touted by Commissioner Wanda Halbert and others.

Board member Sara Lewis, adamant about abolishing the policy, vowed to submit "no spanking" letters to principals at the schools of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. A former school principal, Lewis spoke about the negative effects of paddling. "To whip or not to whip, that is the question," she said. "We are breeding a generation of 'super predators' who are not afraid of anything. They take a whipping and say, 'So what?' We're demeaning our children and making them hostile. We can do something else."

Until Monday's resolution can be implemented, teachers are still allowed to use corporal punishment as a method of discipline. Alternative methods, specifically Superintendent Carol Johnson's proposed Blue Ribbon Behavior Plan, will immediately be transitioned into schools.

While corporate punishment monopolized discussion at the more than five-hour meeting, commissioners revisited other issues such as new schools and city/county mergers.

Johnson and staff members presented a report outlining the district's needs for the next five years. The plan was part of a required report due to Shelby County mayor A C Wharton by December 1st. According to the report, MCS staff has begun assessing underused schools for mergers and closures, new schools, and school maintenance and improvements.

The plan calls for a new middle school in Cordova's Berryhill annexation area and an elementary school in Cordova. The schools are necessary to stem the overflow of students in annexed areas of the city. "We have about 278 portable [buildings] in the district, and Kate Bond Elementary [in a newly annexed area] has 15. These proposed schools were placed in these areas for a reason."

The working document will continue with assessments of other areas within the district, including Southeast Memphis, an area also in need of new schools. •

E-mail: jdavis@memphisflyer.com

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