A Kansas lawmaker is proposing a bill that would allow teachers, caregivers and parents to spank children hard enough to leave marks.
But in some Harvey County schools, the bill is a moot point — spanking is not allowed in three of four districts that responded to a Kansan inquiry of their policies. The fourth does not have an active policy.
"I believe schools will still have in place policies not to spank children," said Jeff Shearon, superintendent of Burrton schools. "In a day and age where people can and do sue others and institutions over lots of different things, I see this as an area in which schools simply will not want to intentionally put themselves at risk for such lawsuits."
Sedgwick currently does not have an active policy; however, superintendent Mike Hull said corporal punishment has not been used in the district in at least 20 years.
More than 30 nations have banned corporal punishment — some including bans in homes. Current Kansas law allows for spanking which does not leave marks. In the school setting it is up to individual districts to set policy on spanking. According to The Center for Effective Discipline, 31 states have banned corporal punishment in schools.
"I really don't think public schools should have the option," said Paul Becker, superintendent of Hesston schools. "(In homes) I really feel that it is the parent's responsibility to decide."
State Rep. Gail Finney, a Democrat from Wichita, told the Associated Press she wants to allow up to 10 strikes of the hand and that could leave redness and bruising. The bill also would allow parents to give permission to others to spank their children.
It would continue to ban hitting a child with fists, in the head or body, or with a belt or switch. Finney says she wants to restore parental rights and improve discipline.
The bill, however, may muddy the waters for child advocates as they report and investigate possible abuse cases.
"I'm unclear how it will be perceived at the law enforcement level and courts. At what level do we say a bruise is OK," said Marlene Beeson, director of the Heart to Heart Child Advocacy Center. "No matter where those bruises are at, it will be reported."
The bill reads: "'Corporal punishment' means up to ten forceful applications in succession of a bare, open-hand palm against the clothed buttocks of a child and any such reasonable physical force on the child as may be necessary to hold, restrain or control the child in the course of maintaining authority over the child, acknowledging that redness or bruising may occur on the tender skin of a child as a result. As used in this subsection "child" includes a person over the age of 18 who is enrolled in high school.
"I have encountered people who have asked 'what can you do with your kids when they act out if you can't punsish them?' I have compassion for parents with difficult children, but giving them the right to bruise their children is not right," Beeson said.
The bill also allows parents to give written permission to caregivers to spank children.
"There are 20 years of research that shows that spanking is a short term solution, and does not teach long term skills or educate. Spanking is a euphemism for hitting. The child receives it as hitting," Beeson said. "This bill disturbs me.. … Did these people not do any research? Did she not listen to the research? "
— The Associated Press contributed to this report