Reported Cases Of Corporal Punishment At Arizona Schools Drastically Drops

By Claire Caulfield
Published: Monday, September 24, 2018 - 11:00am
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During the 2013-14 school year, Arizona schools reported six cases of corporal punishment to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

The previous year, that number was 601.

When asked about the drastic drop, a department spokesman said in an email, “The Department does not speculate about why specific numbers increase or decrease across data collections.”

The rules for reporting did change slightly for the 2013-14 school year.

According to the department, the question “Does this school have any students who received corporal punishment for disciplinary purposes?” was added that year.

“If a district responded, ‘No’ to this question, it was not prompted to report data on incidents of corporal punishment,” a department spokesman said in an email.

Additionally, in 2011 a federal grant that provided money for collecting data on violence in Arizona schools expired.

“So schools probably didn’t know it was defunct and continued to collect and report that year,” said Arizona Department of Education spokesman Stefan Swiat. “Then they realized that they didn't have to do it, hence the drop.”

Arizona is one of 15 states that expressly allows physical punishment of students, and the state education department does not require schools to report or track instances of corporal punishment.

Swiat does not predict that changing in the future.

“It’s all about local control,” he said. “It starts at the school board.”   

Not tracking corporal punishment could mean discrimination goes unnoticed, said National Association of State Boards of Education President Kris Amundson.

“If kids are violating the rules in the same way, I think most of us agree that those kids ought to be treated in the same way and whatever consequences they receive to be the same,” she said.

But Amundson cited national studies showing male students, African-American students and students with disabilities are more likely to receive corporal punishment.

“When kids feel safe and comfortable they’re able to do the hard work of learning,” she said. “We talk about the need to make sure that there isn’t disparate discipline or that students are not treated differently."

For the 2011-12 school year, Arizona’s data showed such disparities.

Although Native American students comprised 4.8 percent of the student population that year, 34.8 percent of reported corporal punishment instances involved Native students.

Of the six reported cases in 2013-2014, the ethnicity of the students was not as clear.

“One to three” were listed as Hispanic or Latino and “one to three” were listed as white.

Arizona wasn’t the only school with a drastic drop in overall cases.

48 states and the District of Columbia saw decreases from school year 2011-12 to 2013-14. The two states that reported no instances in 2011-12 also reported zero cases the following year. 28 states that previously reported cases reported no cases once the requirements changed. At the high end, Pennsylvania incidents went from 1,934 incidents to zero. Maryland dropped to from two cases to zero.

More than one million students are enrolled in Arizona schools, so the 601 students who received corporal punishment in 2011-12 was a fraction of the overall population. A large majority of districts in Arizona have adopted internal policies that ban the practice, according to Arizona School Boards Association spokeswoman Heidi Vega.

Vega said that out of 237 districts in Arizona, only 16 have policies that do not ban corporal punishment. But Vega said in an email that those 16 districts “haven’t practiced it in years.”