Bill would finally, fully ban corporal punishment in Maine schools

Bill would finally, fully ban corporal punishment in Maine schools

A bill sponsored by Rep. Maureen Terry, a Democrat from Gorham, aims to make Maine the 29th state in the union to explicitly ban the use of physical force against students by school officials. Though no law expressly condones the practice here, and the use of corporal punishment for disciplinary purposes was banned in 1975, the semantic change would clear up any legal ambiguity in the event of a future complaint.

Shortly after the November election, when a constituent brought an NPR piece on the subject to Terry’s attention, the congresswoman was shocked to learn that a loophole still exists in Maine law that would leave a student without legal recourse if injured by excessive force.

“I thought, ‘Hey, this is not cool,’” she said. Though corporal punishment has largely been banned outside of the Deep South and Ohio Valley and is on the decline elsewhere, a single word in Maine law leaves students vulnerable. “Parents should have the right to seek recourse if their child is hurt in any disciplinary action.”

The current law, last revised in 1981, says that a teacher or other school official may not be held civilly liable for the use of a “reasonable degree of force” against a student who creates a disturbance if they believe it is necessary to control the disturbing behavior or remove the student from the scene of the disturbance. “[Subsection 1] shall not apply to the intentional or reckless use of force that creates a substantial risk of death, serious bodily injury or extraordinary pain or to the rendering of corporal punishment.”

Terry’s bill closes that loophole by changing the wording from “shall not apply” to “does not apply,” making the prohibition against intentional or reckless use of force absolute. The only exception would be if reasonable pain results from physical restraint that is necessary to protect the student or others from immediate harm.

In other words, school officials will need to be more judicious about using any degree of force when it comes to the decision to remove an unruly student.

“No teacher or administrator really wants to hurt a kid,” Terry said. “They already have such a hard job to do.”

In a study published last August, Education Week found that more than 109,000 students nationwide experienced physical discipline in 2013-14, the last year such statistics were recorded by the U.S. Dept. of Education. On November 21, the National Women’s Law Center penned a letter signed by 78 organizations urging administrators and policymakers to abolish corporal punishment. Secretary of Education John B. King wrote a letter the following day urging governors and chief state school officers to do the same.

The Committee on Educational and Cultural Affairs gave the bill a public hearing on Feb. 28 and advanced it to a work session on date to be announced.

Photo via Flickr/Wesley Fryer.

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Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson 6 posts

Russell Wilson is a freelance writer based in Portland. He is a former educator and recently graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in journalism.

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