By Valarie Honeycutt Spears Lexington Herald-Leader

Legislation has been introduced in the General Assembly that would end corporal punishment in schools in Kentucky, a state where students were paddled or spanked 334 times in 2016-17, down from 517 the year before.

With 17 school districts presently using the practice under the current law, legislators have in years past told the Herald-Leader they don’t have much interest in banning the practice statewide. Nor does Yvonne Gilliam, the Superintendent of Bell County Public Schools, want to lose it as a disciplinary option. There were 100 incidents of corporal punishment reported in that district in 2016-17.

But state Rep. Steve Riley, R-Glasgow, thinks it’s time for the practice to stop.

“I’m not sure it’s an effective punishment any more,” said Riley. “There can be some debate about whether it once was. There are so many other things the school can do that allow for learning but yet still get the attention of students.”

“For teachers and administrators, I really don’t know why you would want to take the risk of doing that,” Riley said. “Not only as a teacher do I not think it would be helpful, but also you are putting yourself in a legal situation whereby I think it could be detrimental to you and your profession and your school system."”

House Bill 375, co-sponsored by House Education Committee Chairman state Rep. John Carney, R-Campbellsville , says that school administrators, teachers or other certified personnel, office staff, instructional assistants, and coaches and extracurricular sponsors who are employed by a school district shall not use corporal physical discipline, including the use of spanking, shaking, or paddling, as a means of punishment, discipline, behavior modification, or for any other reason.

In Kentucky, the decision to use corporal punishment is made at the district level. It is not used in Fayette County, but several school districts see it as an option to maintain order.

Seven districts used it less than 10 times, and 3 districts used it more than 35 times in 2016-17, according to data from Kentucky Youth Advocates.

“We do find it very effective in establishing a safe learning environment for all of our students. We need to insure that all students are safe,” Gilliam, the Bell Superintendent said. “That is a disciplinary tool that some of our principals use. We allow principals to use discretion if they think it’s appropriate. We don’t mandate corporal punishment.”

Schools have to obtain parental permission first, and try to give students in all instances an alternative, ,Gilliam said. That could include an in-school or out-of-school suspension.

In Bell County, the person administering corporal punishment has to be the same gender of the student receiving the punishment, and a certified staff member must witness the incident.

“We have very safe schools. I would like to maintain the ability to use every tool possible to maintain a safe learning environment for our students,” said Gilliam.

Gilliam said she thought that the incidents of corporal punishment in Bell County had declined in 2017-18 as they did the year before, although exact new numbers were not immediately available.

“It’s used on a very limited basis,” she said.

Pulaski County Schools, where officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, reported the second-highest number of corporal punishment incidents at 53, and Pike County Schools at 36 in 2016-17.

The 2016-17 Safe Schools Annual Statistical Report shows that in-school removal was the most frequently reported discipline resolution for all three school years since 2014-15 in Kentucky. For the 2016-17 school year, 78.2 percent of behavior events resulted in an in-school removal from the student’s regular instructional setting; 21.6 percent of behavior events resulted in an out-of-school suspension; and less than 1 percent of behavior events resulted in an expulsion or corporal punishment. The use of corporal punishment has declined since the 2014-15 school year.

In school year 2016-17, there were 334 instances of corporal punishment reported, compared to 517 for school year 2015-16 and 574 for school year 2014-15.

As of 2016-17, only 17 of Kentucky’s 173 public school districts reported use of corporal punishment, which is down from 25 in school year 2015-16.

Mostly white males receive corporal punishment in Kentucky, according to the statistics. Thirty-seven of the incidents in 2016-17 involved females. Six of the 334 incidents statewide involved black students.

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, has supported a ban on corporal punishment in Kentucky schools for years.

“There are few ideas that are bad from every angle – but corporal punishment fits that bill,” said Brooks. “First, it is neither effective as a behavioral management technique nor as a school safety measure. You have to wonder whether those who still use this method are taking a lazy way out or simply don’t know better. As an educator of three decades; as a grandpa of public school students; and, as an advocate for kids, there is not an issue more vital than school discipline and corporal punishment actually is counterproductive to encouraging positive student behavior and overall campus safety.”

Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt, in general, “does not support corporal punishment as an effective discipline method in schools. He is still in the process of reviewing the specifics of HB 375,” said Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez.