Yes, corporal punishment is still legal in most Alabama schools

[Photo Credit: Stateimpact Florida | Sarah Gonzalez]

A school in neighboring Georgia has gained the national spotlight after announcing it is bringing back a controversial form of corporal punishment for students who misbehave: paddling.

“There was a time when corporal punishment was kind of the norm in school and you didn’t have the problems you have (now),” said the superintendent at the Georgia School for Innovation and the Classics in Hephzibah where paddled has just been given the green-light once more, Jody Boulineau.

What many Alabamians may not know is that paddling is legal in their state too.

In 1995, the state Legislature passed a law — found in Section 16-1-24.1 of the Alabama Code that permits the use of corporal punishment in public schools, but directs local school boards to adopt their own codes of conduct and disciplinary procedures. The statute, however, is pretty vague but it does prohibit any “excessive force or cruel and unusual punishment.”

(g) Except in the case of excessive force or cruel and unusual punishment, no certified or non-certified employee of the State Board of Education or any local board of education shall be civilly liable for any action carried out in conformity with state law and system or school rules regarding the control, discipline, suspension, and expulsion of students.

According to the most recent available data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in Sept. 2016, 107 out of 133 school districts in Alabama exercised physical force on its students during the 2013-2014 school year. The translated to nearly 19,000 Alabama students being paddled that year.

Corporal punishment map
[Photo via U.S. Dept. of Education]

Examples of corporal punishment policies in Alabama

  • Alexander City Schools: shall consist of no more than three (3) licks administered to the buttocks with a smooth surface paddle free of holes and/or cracks.
  • Autagua County School System: shall not be administered in the presence of other students and shall not include more than three (3) licks to the buttocks. Refusal to be paddled can result in suspension or expulsion.
  • Dothan City Schools: The principal of a school is vested by the Code of Alabama with the authority to administer corporal punishment in conformance with the policy of the Dothan City Board of Education.

But just because it’s still allowed doesn’t mean everyone is still on board with it. Mobile County Public SchoolsMountain Brook Schools, and Talladega City Schools. are among a few school systems who have outright banned the practice in their districts.

Further, following the release of statistics of the U.S. Department of Education, the Alabama Association of School Boards voted to change the group’s position from “discouraging” paddling of students to “prohibiting” the act in in December 2016. Nevertheless, the vote doesn’t have any teeth to it – it was merely an official position statement that is not legally enforceable, and the issue has not been a legislative priority of the state legislature.