DENVER | State lawmakers so far seem keen on taking Colorado off the list of remaining states that still permit public schools and day-care centers to spank children — although institutions or businesses that actually do it appear to be very rare.
Colorado is one of 19 states that legally allows public schools, child care center and other facilities dealing with children to spank, flog or cane children as forms of corporal punishment.
House Bill 17-1038 easily passed through the House Education Committee Jan. 23 by an 11-2 vote bi-partisan vote. Sponsored by Rep. Susan Lontine (D-Denver) the bill prohibits employees and volunteers in public schools, state-licensed child care centers, family child care homes and specialized group facilities from using corporal punishment, such as spanking.
The bill does not address corporal punishment administered by parents.
Though it’s allowed in Colorado, such punishment isn’t used often, according to a report compiled of data from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. The data shows less than 1 percent of Colorado public schools used corporal punishment in 2011-12, with 485 cases reported — a paltry number compared to other states, such as Mississippi and Texas, where roughly 30,000 cases of corporal punishment were reported in the same year.
A majority of the Colorado cases reportedly came out of Sheridan School District No. 2, but this was vehemently refuted by Sheridan superintendent Michael Clough during the testimony phase.
“We have not and do not have corporal punishment,” Clough said of the 431 reported corporal punishment incidences in Sheridan School District. “It does seem like we need some work on data collection.”
Despite questioning the validity of the data in the report, Clough was still in favor of the bill, echoing Lontine’s sentiment that “even if this is happening to one kid, that’s one too many.”
Also there to testify in favor of the bill was Kinette Richards, a school psychologist with Cherry Creek School District. It was the first time Richards felt compelled to testify before the state legislature.
During her testimony, Richards said students who have experienced trauma often seem hyperactive or hyper-vigilant at school, which can lead to behavioral issues and subsequent physical discipline of the child. But she said it’s the wrong approach and shouldn’t be allowed in schools, and “can lead to higher rates of anger and hostility.”
“When we teach children to stop bullying among peers, it’s hard to condone corporal punishment,” Richards said.
She also pointed out that corporal punishment is disproportionately used on students of color, boys, poor students and those with disabilities, and that there are better practices for disciplining children. For example, teaching children self-management or using trauma-informed practices will yield better behavioral results, she said.
In Aurora, corporal punishment doesn’t have much of a presence. Both Aurora Public Schools and Cherry Creek School District have policies strictly forbidding its use by teachers and administration. In addition, Bright Stars Child Care and Preschool, Sunrise Day Care and Preschool, and Little Angel Day Care in Aurora all said they don’t use corporal punishment.
“If you did this same thing at home, it would be child abuse,” Lontine said. “But if you do this at schools, it’s corporal punishment.”
Aurora Rep. Janet Buckner (D-Aurora), who also serves as vice chair of the House Education Committee, was among the 11 lawmakers to vote in favor of the bill.