17 Jan 2011

Alabama allows teachers to assault students, 12 year old shows bruises and welts received for failing science test

WHNT NEWS 19 - Alabama November 9, 2010

Paddling: Parent Claims Teacher Went To The Extreme

by Carrie Marchese | WHNT NEWS 19 Consumer/Investigative Reporter

DEKALB COUNTY, AL - Corporal punishment in schools has long been a hot button issue, but our WHNT NEWS 9 investigation into this particular form of discipline began after a DeKalb County mom called us for help. Melissa Lewis says her 12-year-old son Payton got a paddling in science class, but she says it's the severity of the paddling that led her to contact our station.

Payton attends Plainview Elementary and is in the seventh grade. Recently, Lewis claims her son came home from school with severe bruises and welts on his behind. Melissa Lewis said her son was upset, "Mom look at my butt and see if there is something wrong with it? He dropped his pants and I said wow what happened? He said I got paddled because I did not pass my science test."

Payton Lewis wasn't the only one. WHNT NEWS 19 learned at least three kids felt the strike of the paddle that day. Payton describes it as a day he will never forget. He said, "It felt like he was trying to touch the ceiling and when he came down... it felt like he was trying to smack me through the wall."

And it was even harder for Melissa Lewis to swallow. She claims she had the same teacher many years before and said, "He was out of control then and he's out of control now." Lewis calls it a disturbing pattern and her frustration is shared by many. WHNT NEWS 19 spoke to several parents, who all say they have dealt with this particular teacher and his methods of discipline.

WHNT NEWS 19 took Lewis' concerns to Plainview Elementary Principal Ronald Bell. We asked Bell if there were any specific rules surrounding the severity of paddling and what he considers excessive. He couldn't give us a definitive answer but did say teachers need to be mindful when using physical force. Bell said, "Every time you draw back a paddle that is something that needs to be on the mind of the teacher that's doing the paddling."

WHNT NEWS 19 called the DeKalb County Superintendent's office more than a dozen times to ask about the rules and regulations surrounding corporal punishment. They refused to answer our questions but did say they follow Alabama state laws. We called the Alabama Department of Education and officials told WHNT NEWS 19 that corporal punishment "is authorized under the policies and guidelines developed by the local board of education."

Melissa Lewis says nowhere in the county handbook does it state that a child can be disciplined for anything academic related. WHNT NEWS 19 also studied the handbook and learned Lewis was right. The handbook does list some violations, but academics are not one of them. Furthermore, the handbook says corporal punishment should only be administered with "moderate use of physical force" and only in order to "maintain discipline" and "enforce school rules."

Principal Bell says all kids should always be given alternatives to paddling such as in-school suspension. But Payton says he never received that alternative. Payton said, "He just lectured us about how his dad beat him and said that's what I am going to do to you."

Perhaps all this could have been solved if Melissa opted to sign a "no paddle list." Several schools across the country are giving the power back to the parents. But after doing some digging, WHNT NEWS 19 learned no such option exists in DeKalb County.

Principal Bell says Plainview Schools have used corporal punishment less and less each year. Since Payton's paddling, the school has issued a letter to faculty discouraging paddling for the time being and encouraging more communication with parents. "I really think that at some point in time Alabama will take a serious look at outlawing corporal punishment," said Bell.

This is welcomed news for Lewis and her son Payton. Lewis says she never had a problem with corporal punishment until now and knowing the paddle is out of the teachers hands gives her a sense of peace. She adds, "I have had many kids and parents tell me he is a total different person without that paddle in his hand, that he is a better teacher and he is nice to them."

And as it turns out, Payton Lewis is hearing the same thing, only his feedback is from his fellow classmates. "I think I have helped a lot of kids in the future from bruises like mine, it is outrageous... no one needs to hit anyone that hard," said Payton.

Lewis filed a police report and her case was investigated by the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department. It is up to the DeKalb County District Attorney's office to decide whether to press criminal charges.


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