Tennessee is one of 22 states that allow corporal punishment (CP) in public schools. The other 28 states and the District of Columbia have laws banning the use of CP.
In July of 2017, some members of the Tennessee General Assembly requested that the OREA research the use of CP in Tennessee schools to determine if it is being used disproportionately for students with disabilities.
Tennessee has 1,798 public schools, of which 907 are in districts that allow CP, and 433 of which actually reported using corporal punishment as a discipline option.
Of those 433, only 208 schools used CP for both students with and without disabilities.
The study found that between the 2009-10 school year and 2013-14 school year, the number of students without disabilities who received CP statewide decreased from 10,870 to 5,821, a reduction of 46 percent.
Meanwhile the total number of disabled students statewide who received CP during that same period decreased from 1,540 to 1,428 — a reduction of only 7 percent.
In all three reporting years, about 80 percent of the schools that reported using CP for students with and without disabilities used it at a higher rate for students with disabilities.
Recommendations in the study:
1. The General Assembly may wish to require the Tennessee Department of Education to collect corporal punishment data by disability category. More specific corporal punishment data for students with disabilities would help policymakers pinpoint which types of students with disabilities (e.g., those identified with a speech or language impairment, intellectual disability, autism) receive corporal punishment and at what rate compared to their peers.
2. Prohibition of corporal punishment for some or all students with disabilities: OREA found that some Tennessee principals who use corporal punishment exempt students with certain disabilities, such as those with a traumatic brain injury, autism, an orthopedic impairment, or an emotional disturbance. Students in other disability categories, such as speech or language impairments or specific learning disabilities, were more likely to be subject to corporal punishment.
3. Restrict the use of corporal punishment for students with disabilities by requiring: parental consent; or manifestation of disability assessment — (prohibits the use of corporal punishment for students with disabilities if the misbehavior is a manifestation of his or her disability); or inclusion in the Individualized Education Program (prohibiting the use of corporal punishment for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities).
4. Schools and districts should review and improve their data reporting methods. To prevent errors in the reporting of corporal punishment data identified by OREA, schools and districts should review their reporting procedures and ensure corporal punishment data is reported correctly.
You can read the entire study online, including local statistics, at http://comptroller.tn.gov/orea/.