Oklahoma strikes down a law aimed at ending corporal punishment for disabled students

Oklahoma strikes down a law aimed at ending corporal punishment for disabled students

  • US News
  • March 17, 2023
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Oklahoma lawmakers on Tuesday struck down a law that, if passed, would have ended the use of corporal punishment on disabled students.

Corporal punishment is defined in the draft law as “the intentional infliction of physical pain by hitting, paddling, beating, slapping, or any other physical violence used as a means of discipline.” Legislation would have prohibited the use of this form of punishment of disabled students under the Disability Education Act.

According to KFOR, the bill passed by a vote of 45 to 43. But the bill eventually fell through because it needed a majority of 51 lawmakers to pass it.

Rep. John Talley (R) authored the bill, stating that corporal punishment of disabled students “does not belong in the classroom” and that “accountability and grace go hand in hand,” reports KFOR. But other Republicans voted against the law, citing some scriptures as a reason.

“Proverbs 29: ‘The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings his mother to shame’,” Rep. Jim Olsen (R) calledadding that the biblical line “seems to advocate the use of corporal punishment.”

He also given an example by a constituent who said his disabled child “didn’t respond to positive motivation” but “responded very well to physical punishment.”

The Oklahoma legislature has rejected a law that would have outlawed corporal punishment of children with disabilities in schools.

Rep. Jim Olsen (R) cites proverbs to oppose the ban: ‘The rod and the rebuke give wisdom. But a child left to their own devices shames their mother.” pic.twitter.com/nwlY2KOdPD

— The Recount (@therecount) March 14, 2023

Meanwhile, Rep. Cyndi Munson (D), who voted for the law, spoke about her experience of child abuse and why corporal punishment should be outlawed.

“My mom used to hit me on the back with chopsticks … She pulled my hair to make me listen to her, make me behave,” she said calledadding that she has spent over a decade working with psychologists and therapists to process her childhood trauma.

She said her father used positive reinforcement and spoke kindly to encourage her and her siblings to behave. But she added that the amount of love he showed her — through no fault of his own — wasn’t enough to outweigh the way her mother treated her.

“So imagine a kid who goes to school and doesn’t ‘behave,'” she said. “Whether they have a disability or not, a child needs to go to a safe place.”

According to the Hechinger report, 19 states, including Oklahoma, allow corporal punishment to be used on students in public schools. Nationwide, more than 69,000 students were physically punished almost 97,000 times in the 2017-18 school year.

A recent study found that of the estimated 291 million disabled children and youth worldwide, nearly a third have experienced violence, reports NPR. Additionally, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), disabled students nationwide are disproportionately exposed to corporal punishment, which is often used as a means of disciplining for behaviors related to their disabilities and conditions such as Tourette’s syndrome and autism.

In Tennessee, for example, disabled students paddle more than twice as often as the general student population. However, the ACLU stated that since there is no prescribed account of the many types of corporal punishment that occur, these statistics likely undercount the violence faced by disabled students.

The use of force and harmful punishment is not a new or unusual experience for people with disabilities, advocates note. For example, the author se Smith pointed out in a tweet in response to the failure of Oklahoma’s bill, he claimed that the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Massachusetts had used electroshock devices on autistic students despite decades of attempts by advocates to put a stop to it.

According to the Disability Rights and Education Fund (DREDF), children use behavior to communicate needs. As a result, they risk losing educational benefits by unduly disciplining, suspending, or placing them in restrictive environments.

Schools across the US have instead adopted Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), an evidence-based, tiered framework used to support students’ behavioral, academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs, from which disabled students benefit greatly.

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