OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) — In a startling discovery, 43 Oklahoma school districts used corporal punishment against students with disabilities during the 2021-2022 school year.

News 4 requested data from the Oklahoma State Department of Education to see how many districts still used corporal punishment against students with disabilities.

Corporal punishment includes spanking and paddling.

43 school districts reported a total of 247 times where corporal punishment was used against kids with special needs.

The four school districts who used corporal punishment against kids with disabilities during the 2021-2022 school year the most include:

  • Holly Creek Public Schools, 20 times
  • Albion Public Schools, 23 times
  • Blair Public Schools, 23 times
  • Calera Public Schools, 29 times

“Corporal punishment for students who require an IEP was permitted only with written parental permission,” said Blair Public Schools Superintendent Jimmy Smith.

Smith said the district has recently voted to do away with corporal punishment against students with special needs though.

“Last spring, the Blair Board of Education revised its corporal punishment policy which now prohibits the use of corporal punishment under any circumstances to a student who requires an Individual Education Plan (IEP),” stated Supt. Smith.

The Albion Public Schools Superintendent Katie Blagg told News 4 corporal punishment would have only happened at the lower grade level and at a parent’s request.

Supt. Blagg added corporal punishment against students with disabilities only happened twice during the 2022-2023 school year.

Since talking with News 4 about the situation, she said she is pushing for her district to cease using corporal punishment altogether.

Other districts are stunned by the use of corporal punishment to begin with.

“To me, that is just not a trauma informed way to handle discipline at school,” said Yukon Public Schools Executive Director of Special Services, Amy Beams.

Yukon Public Schools serves about 1,750 students who have special needs.

Beams said those classrooms should be filled with positive reinforcement and helpful guides.

“We have some programs to help provide a structured environment for those kiddos to learn behavior. We’ve got traditional specialized classrooms where the students receive all of their therapies. It’s very multi-disciplinary. The occupational therapists, speech pathologists, all those things work with the teachers in their classrooms. We have classrooms that focus on our students who have autism. We have some specific programs for kiddos with more of a specific learning disability or perhaps ADHD, whatever it is, you know, wherever that kid falls and whatever their skills are, we have programing to accommodate their needs,” stated Beams.

She added the district strives to help students with disabilities from three years old and up. She explained she has never thought to use corporal punishment as a form of discipline.

“That’s not an avenue that we would ever pursue with our students with disabilities. You know, I’m really passionate about teaching students behavior,” said Beams. “We have some behavior specialists that go out and coach and work with those teachers on how to teach kids behavior. From there, it kind of just depends on the level of severity of the kid. If it’s more than just a classroom kind of situation where the teacher might need some assistance, then we really start to embed with those kiddos and with their family to provide that structured behavioral support in a systematic way.”

Other school districts who do not allow corporal punishment either against students with disabilities or all students include:

  • Edmond Public Schools
  • Mustang Public Schools
  • Moore Public Schools
  • Putnam City Public Schools
  • Stillwater Public Schools
  • Oklahoma City Public Schools

“Under no circumstance is corporal punishment allowed in OKCPS. Our student code of conduct clearly states: ‘Corporal punishment shall not be used to discipline students. Reasonable physical, protective force may be used by staff members when it is immediately necessary to protect themselves, to protect other persons against the use of unlawful force upon them, or to protect a student from harming themself.'”

Oklahoma City Public Schools

Stillwater Public Schools Communications Coordinator, Barry Fuxa, told KFOR the district has had a policy against corporal punishment for at least 30 years.

“You kind of got to follow the science. You’ve got to follow the research and just see what works, what doesn’t work. Science points towards doesn’t work,” said Fuxa.

Stillwater Public Schools serves 1,497 students with special needs.

“We’ve been navigating without corporal punishment. I think that kind of speaks for itself,” added Fuxa.

Fuxa said he was shocked to hear how many times corporal punishment was used during the 2021-2022 school year. What made it shocking for him was the fact it was against kids with special needs.

Oklahoma lawmakers have tried banning corporal punishment against students with disabilities in the past.

During the 2023 regular legislative session, House Representative John Talley (R-Stillwater) and Senator Kay Floyd (D-OKC) authored a bill to prohibit the use of corporal punishment against students with disabilities.

House Bill 1028 failed the first go-round.

“If you will not use the rod on a disobedient child, you do not love that child. That’s what the book said,” argued Rep. Jim Olsen (R-Roland). “It is plain that it is the will of the Lord wants us to use God’s word and God’s counsel as we make laws for the State.”

Another Representative, Randy Randleman (R-Eufaula) argued against the bill as well.

“If you don’t balance out nurturing and discipline, you will have many people in prison,” said Randleman.

Rep. Talley brought the bill to the House floor again. It passed the second time.

However, it never made it to the Senate floor.

The bill is still alive for the Senate’s consideration during the 2024 regular legislative session, but first, Rep. Talley and Sen. Floyd are heading an interim study to further examine the issue of corporal punishment against students with disabilities.

The State Department of Education has prohibited corporal punishment against students with disabilities since the 2020-2021 school year.

“Corporal punishment of students with disabilities not authorized. For all students, the State
Department of Education strongly encourages Oklahoma schools to implement disciplinary policies and practices that use evidence based, developmentally appropriate methods informed by an awareness that many students have endured Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and related trauma. As applied to students with disabilities entitled to special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the use of corporal punishment by employees or agents of an Oklahoma public school is prohibited beginning in the 2020-2021 school year.”

Oklahoma Compilation of School Discipline Laws and Regulations, according to U.S. Department of Education

Sen. Floyd told KFOR studies have shown corporal punishment negatively impacts students’ mental and physical well being.

She said prior to the 2023 legislative session, she was unaware of corporal punishment being an issue. She said she is typically more aware, but this issue wasn’t ever on her radar.

Now that it is, Sen. Floyd is pushing to make a law banning corporal punishment against students with disabilities.

“Isn’t that basically paddling a child because of a disability? Is that what we want to do in the state? And I think the answer is no,” stated Sen. Floyd.

She and Rep. Talley will study the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

They will conduct an interim study on corporal punishment on students with disabilities on October 5.

Sen. Floyd said there will be a panel of experts, including a professor of psychology and a parent of a child with disabilities.

The interim study may be available to stream online.