Students’ bill aims to curb punishments

RecordLogo-FBy Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Middle school students from St. Agnes School and Notre Dame Academy may eventually play a role in eliminating corporal punishment in Kentucky public schools and institutions.

House Bill (HB) 393 in the Kentucky General Assembly is based on mock bills written and presented by students at the Kentucky Youth Assembly (KYA) Dec. 2 in Frankfort, Ky., according to Alison Milby, a St. Agnes teacher who helped coordinate the KYA project.

HB 393 would prohibit “corporal physical discipline” in all Kentucky school districts, as well as “church-related privately operated child-caring agencies or facilities” the bill says. It also prohibits the use of physical force against a minor.

Rep. Jim Wayne, who filed the bill, said during a phone interview March 2 that each school district in the state currently decides whether to use corporal punishment.

The bill hasn’t had a hearing during the current legislative session, which is nearly over, but Rep. Wayne said he’s hopeful it will receive a hearing during the assembly’s “interim period,” which starts in the fall.

Allie Hoover, an eighth-grader from Notre Dame, worked on one of the KYA bills. She said in a press release about the proposal that research shows Kentucky is one of 19 states where corporal punishment is still used on students in kindergarten through 12th-grade.

“House Bill 393, forbidding the practice of corporal punishment in Kentucky schools, defines Kentucky as a state that cares about its students and the education climate of its schools,” said Hoover.

Rep. Wayne said schools must report their use of corporal punishment to the Kentucky Department of Education and said it seems the practice is used more commonly in southeastern Kentucky. “We know it’s still occurring.”

Alex Young, a seventh-grader at St. Agnes, said presenting the bill at KYA made him realize how few people knew corporal punishment was still legal in Kentucky.

“We felt it was an issue that’s completely real, so it had to go further (than KYA),” said Young during a phone interview March 3.

Young said he decided to contact Rep. Wayne, who is a parishioner of St. Agnes, to talk about presenting an actual bill. His research showed, he noted, that corporal punishment is disproportionately used on African-American and disabled children. “This needs to stop,” said Young.

Elizabeth George, a seventh-grader at St. Agnes, said her research showed the use of corporal punishment can cause “fatigue, suicidal thoughts and aggression” in children.

The use of physical punishment can also lead to lower scores on tests, such as the American College Testing (ACT) exam, George said.
George added that sometimes students are physically disciplined for infractions as minor as chewing gum. “We felt it was wrong.”

Rep. Wayne, who is a psychotherapist, added that corporal punishment is ineffective.

“Spanking and other forms of corporal punishment send the wrong message to children and do not teach them proper ways to manage their anger and impulses,” he said in a statement.

The St. Agnes group that worked on the mock bill also came up with a survey administered to students in Eastern Kentucky schools. A student who responded to the survey said he knew of a schoolmate who was corporally punished because of “an accusation of cursing,” though no proof was available, said Young.

Rep. Wayne said the students’ research was “thorough.”

More than 70 students from St. Agnes and Notre Dame packed the capitol’s rotunda Feb. 28 as HB 393 was presented at a press conference. The students presented “wonderful testimonies at the press conference,” said Rep. Wayne.

St. Agnes students Charlie Gardner and Emma Kate Watts-Roy also worked on the KYA bill. Milby, their teacher, said they started working on the project at the end of September.

Notre Dame Academy students Garrett Thornsberry, Jenna Snider and Peyton Nauert also worked on creating the KYA bill for their school.

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