Monday, November 24, 2014

Spanking bill fails to connect with lawmakers, school officials

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 2/21/2014

“No hitting the children,” Jim White said.

That’s the current policy at Central Heights schools, as well as at Wellsville, West Franklin and Ottawa schools, but the sentiment could have been put to the test if a controversial bill had continued making its way through the Kansas Legislature.

“No hitting the children,” Jim White said.

That’s the current policy at Central Heights schools, as well as at Wellsville, West Franklin and Ottawa schools, but the sentiment could have been put to the test if a controversial bill had continued making its way through the Kansas Legislature.

Though House Bill 2699 didn’t make it to the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee, state Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, hoped to pass the legislation to make spanking by administrators and caregivers more acceptable in schools, as well as redefine what corporal punishment means.

“Corporal punishment means up to 10 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,” according to the failed bill.

The bill essentially would have allowed caregivers, parents and school officials the ability to hit children hard enough to leave redness or bruising.

The State of Kansas currently allows spanking in schools, but each school district has its own policy on spanking — a policy in which every public school in Franklin County shares the same view.

“There probably has been a time in the past where spanking of children would have been acceptable, but I’m thinking times have changed and we’ve moved past that time,” White, Central Heights superintendent, said. “I think parents ought to have that right in raising their children the way they choose. I’m not sure it’s the best thing in schools to allow spanking.”

It didn’t take long for the proposed bill to gain responses from all sides. Facing such a strong reaction, Finney issued a statement on her website, www.gailfinney.com that read, “This legislation is intended to (i) provide guidance to state officials in the administrative and judicial branches; (ii) serve as a guideline to parents; and (iii) protect Kansas children from abuse. This legislation is not, as has been incorrectly reported, intended to legalize child abuse in Kansas.”

Even if the bill had been successful, Jeanne Stroh, Ottawa schools superintendent, said, it wouldn’t have changed the school district’s policy.

“No spanking, no swats, no physical contact, and we will stick by that regardless of what the rule is because we don’t think that’s what’s best for the kids,” Stroh said.

Allowing school administrators and parents the ability to hit a child so hard as to leave visible markings would have put the schools in a difficult position, Stroh said.

“My concern with the bill was that if a caregiver left marks on a kid, then we would be in position to have to judge when do we call the authorities? To me, that was going to make things much more difficult,” she said. “[If an administrator saw visible marks] when we would call [child protective services] how seriously would it have been taken and what responsibilities would that department have? How would we know if it was the eighth time or the 11th time [a child had been spanked]?”

People took to Finney’s Facebook page to voice their opinions and concerns before the bill had died in the House committee.

“You should lose your job for supporting violence against children. You disgust me,” Linda Rabel commented on Finney’s link to her response regarding the proposed bill.

“What a sick individual Gail Finney is,” Dolly Ward commented. “To want to deliberately hurt children? I had no idea 19 states still allow this barbaric practice, and it should be banned in all schools as well as in homes. Abuse is abuse whether you call it spanking or hitting. Must give elders a pleasure to hit someone smaller than they are, that is sick.”

Spanking children is not a way to discipline them for wrong behavior, Jerry Henn, Wellsville superintendent, said

“Our biggest thing is how we deal with kids on a daily basis,” Henn said. “We work with kids and make sure we’re keeping them busy working in classrooms and making sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing regularly, and that will curtail most behavior issues. We also have counselors in place who work with students and help calm down students and let them see every side of an issue they may be having.”

Henn shared the same thoughts as Stroh in that even if the bill had passed, he said, he would have made sure Wellsville’s current policy of no corporal punishment stayed in place.

“It’s unbelievable to me,” he said. “We might [have been] allowed to do it, but it doesn’t mean we would do it. I don’t believe in corporal punishment, and I would have gone to the school board and supported [the policy] we currently do at our schools.”

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