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McEachin, Bonamici bill would end corporal punishment in public schools

(© W. Scott McGill –

Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) today introduced the Protecting Our Students in Schools Act of 2020, legislation to eliminate the use of corporal punishment in our nation’s schools.

Co-introduced by Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), chair of the Education and Labor Committee’s Civil Rights and Human Services Subcommittee, the Protecting Our Students in Schools Act of 2020 would federally prohibit the practice of corporal punishment in any school which receives federal funding.

The legislation would also establish much-needed enforcement protections and a federal grant program to assist states and school districts in improving the climate and culture of schools across the country.

Substantial research has demonstrated that corporal punishment in schools is not associated in any way with improved student behavior, instead producing similar outcomes to children that suffer physical abuse.

Corporal punishment, or the act of inflicting physical pain on a student’s body as a form of discipline, can result in serious physical injury to the student, including abrasions, broken bones, bruising, hematomas, and other medical complications. Further research has demonstrated that this deplorable practice leads to poor academic performance, physical and emotional harm, and damage to students’ self-esteem and trust with educators.

This practice is often administered to students in response to tardiness, failing to complete assigned homework, failing a test, talking out of turn, and more.

“The federal government must eradicate corporal punishment in our schools once and for all,” said McEachin. “No evidence exists demonstrating that corporal punishment is an effective response to student behavior, and yet nearly 20 states permit the sanctioned use of physical violence against students in the classroom.

“I introduced this critical legislation to ensure that all students in federally-funded schools have a safe, healthy, and high-quality learning environment free of this abhorrent policy. Physical violence against our students, in any form, is a betrayal of our student’s trust, and together, we must pass this bill to protect our students.”

In addition to being both deeply harmful and ineffective, corporal punishment is also disproportionately applied to students of color and students with disabilities. Black male students are roughly twice as likely to be subjected to corporal punishment as white male students, and Black female students are three times as likely to experience the practice as white female students.

Students with disabilities are struck at higher rates than students without disabilities as well, accounting for nearly 15 percent of all corporally punished students.

“Schools must be safe spaces for all students to learn and reach their full potential,” said Bonamici. “It is unconscionable that corporal punishment is still allowed in many states, subjecting students to physical harm that can cause long-lasting damage to their physical, mental, and academic well-being. It is especially troubling that corporal punishment has long been disproportionately used against Black students and students with disabilities.

“I’m leading the Protecting Our Students in Schools Act with Rep. McEachin to finally end corporal punishment in our schools, and support practices such as positive behavioral intervention supports (PBIS), that promote safe and positive learning environments.”

“It is unfathomable that any student would be struck in school for any reason as a form of discipline,” said Katherine Dunn, SPLC Action Fund Regional Policy Analyst. “But that is what hundreds of students experience each day in public schools in states where corporal punishment is still permitted. Tragically, Black students and students with disabilities disproportionately bear the brunt of this abusive, counterproductive practice. It must end now. The SPLC Action Fund fully supports the Protecting Our Students in Schools Act, which will eliminate corporal punishment in schools that receive federal funding. And we urge swift passage in Congress.”

“This legislation is a positive step toward reducing the use of corporal punishment in public schools and an important strategy for preventing child abuse and neglect,” explained Dr. Melissa Merrick, president & CEO of Prevent Child Abuse America. “Research shows that banning corporal punishment in public institutions protects children and youth, establishing healthier norms around safe, effective discipline strategies versus harsh physical punishment. The majority of our state chapters nationwide, in both red and blue states, are working to ban the use of corporal punishment in some form, including through state-level legislative efforts. We applaud Congressman McEachin for advancing this necessary child abuse and neglect prevention strategy that helps children grow up happy, healthy, and prepared to thrive.”

About the Protecting Our Students in Schools Act of 2020

The Protecting Our Students in Schools Act would:

  • Prohibit the practice of corporal punishment in any school that receives federal funding.
  • Establish a series of important and much-needed enforcement protections, including a private right of action, the involvement of the attorney general and the Office for Civil Rights, and a series of rigorous reporting requirements for states and school districts.
  • Invest in states and school districts by establishing a grant program to assist in efforts to improve school climate and culture by implementing positive, proactive measures, including positive behavioral interventions and supports, trauma-informed care, restorative justice interventions, implicit bias training, and culturally responsive teaching to reduce exclusionary and averse discipline practices.

The full text of the Protecting Our Students in Schools Act is available here.