What is corporal punishment?
Corporal punishment generally means any disciplinary action that affects the body (corpus = body). When most people think of corporal punishment, they think of “swats” administered by an administrator or coach. The Texas Education Code has a specific definition of corporal punishment:
[Corporal punishment is defined as] the deliberate infliction of physical pain by hitting, paddling, spanking, slapping, or any other physical force used as a means of discipline. The term does not include:
- physical pain caused by reasonable physical activities associated with athletic training, competition, or physical education; or
- the use of restraint as authorized under Section 37.0021. [relating to reasonable and necessary restraint of special education students]
Texas Education Code §37.0011
What does Texas law say about corporal punishment?
The Texas Education Code provides that each school district shall determine whether to allow corporal punishment. A local district allowing corporal punishment must allow a parent or legal guardian to “opt out” of the policy by providing a written and signed statement prohibiting the use of corporal punishment on their child.
All educators must know and follow their local district’s corporal punishment policy. In addition to negative employment consequences that can result from a violation of the policy, an educator can find themselves sued without the protections normally provided. Educators can be legally and financially liable if they have violated their local corporal punishment policy.
Prohibited Aversive Discipline Techniques
Certain specific “aversive discipline techniques” defined in 37.0023 of the Texas Education Code as “a technique or intervention that is intended to reduce the likelihood of behavior reoccurring by inflicting on a student significant physical or emotional pain or discomfort” are prohibited.
Many of the listed techniques, such as electric shocks or impairing a student’s breathing or circulation are obviously improper. But there are a number of techniques that educators need to be aware are also prohibited as they are not so obviously wrong. For example, the list prohibits anything that “inhibits a student’s ability to speak.” This codifies what should be understood that in no situation should an educator put tape over a student’s mouth, even in “fun.” The list also prohibits withholding food. Elementary school teachers need to rethink the common consequence of a student not getting their afternoon snack because of morning misbehavior. Finally, the list includes denial of access to the restroom. Teachers will likely have campus or class rules about when students may be excused to the restroom. These rules can still be applied, but teachers need to be sure that if they are going to tell a student they cannot be excused, that they have a rule they can point to and that they are not denying the student’s request as a punishment.