Senate committee considering ban on corporal punishment in public schools
Published: October 8, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - Senators and educators will pick up a bill to ban corporal punishment in public schools today in the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Judi Buckley, bans the use of force by anyone on a school campus.
"Over the years, I've done a lot of volunteer work in our public schools, and I've witnessed teachers striking children in a way that made me uncomfortable," Buckley told The Daily News on Monday.
"Not every teacher does this, in fact most don't. However, it's happening often enough that it's a concern," she said.
When she was elected to the 30th Legislature, Buckley began to research the topic of corporal punishment and was surprised to find that the Virgin Islands is the only U.S. territory that has not banned corporal punishment in public schools.
"Corporal punishment is, in fact, still on the books," Buckley said. "And the law has never been amended since 1961."
She said 31 states and 131 countries have outlawed hitting school children, and the Virgin Islands must make this change for the health and safety of the territory's children.
"When you look at the escalation of violence in our community and how many very young people are getting in trouble with the law, you have to look at our policies," Buckley said.
The bill would prevent anyone from hitting students on a school campus, not just teachers, but parents too, she said.
"This is going to take an effort from all the adults in our children's lives," Buckley said. "The schools are going to become a safe haven."
The bill states that no one shall inflict any form of corporal punishment on a student attending a school or institution with the following exceptions:
- To stop a disturbance that is threatening physical injury to others.
- To obtain possession of weapons or other dangerous objects.
- For the purpose of self-defense.
- For the protection of persons or property.
The bill charges the Board of Education to maintain a comprehensive discipline policy to include non-violent forms of conflict resolution to be implemented by the V.I. Education Department.
She said all the players seem to be on board and support the ban, with the exception of some local American Federation of Teachers members.
AFT Local 1826 President Rosa Soto-Thomas said she personally supports the ban, but some of her members do not.
"It gives teachers some leverage with students, it does," Soto-Thomas said.
She said alternatives to corporal punishment should be implemented.
Buckley agreed, saying that the Education Department should focus on training teachers in alternative discipline methods.
Banning corporal punishment reduces liability and creates a more positive learning environment, she said.
In addition to the officials from the Education Department, Board of Education and teachers' union, Buckley has invited an expert from the American Civil Liberties Union who has drafted federal legislation to ban corporal punishment nationwide.
The hearing begins at 9 a.m. today in the Lawaetz Conference Room on St. Croix.
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.