Why Florida Schools Can Paddle Students Against Parents’ Wishes

Miami-2012-03-13 -

State law allows schools in Florida to punish students by spanking them with a paddle, which is often a wooden or fiber-glass board.

The administrators at most schools with corporal punishment policies ask parents for permission to paddle their children. Many principals say they will not paddle a kid against the parent’s wishes.

But schools don’t always check the paperwork before they administer the punishment.
And when that happens, Florida statutes protect the principals and teachers from lawsuits.

Florida Law Protects Principals and Teachers

Robert Rush, a civil rights attorney in Gainesville, says state law does not require schools to get parental consent.

"If the school board and the principal specifically authorize corporal punishment, it can be administered lawfully against the parent's wishes," Rush said.

State statutes say a principal or the principals designated representative “shall not be civilly or criminally liable for any action carried out in conformity with the State Board of Education and district school board rules regarding the control, discipline, suspension, and expulsion of students.”

That means schools cannot be sued for paddling students.

"And part of the reason for that is to do a balancing test so that we're not disrupting schools unnecessarily with frivolous claims," Rush said.

The only way a parent can sue is to argue excessive force or cruel and unusual punishment.

In Levy County, Tenika Jones is making that claim.

Paddling Leaves Welts on Preschooler

Her son Gierrea Bostick was paddled during his second week of preschool at Joyce Bullock Elementary in Williston, Fla.

Gierrea slapped another boy on the school bus. He was five years old.

Gierrea says he was taken off the bus and sent to the principal's office for a spanking.

"She spank me on my booty,” Gierrea said. “I cried all the way home. It was really hard."

The wooden paddle left welts on Gierrea's bottom.

And his mom says her son's welts show that excessive force was used.

"If I would have hit my son how she hit him, I would have been in jail, I would have been on the news, I would have been messed up trying to get my children back, how she hit my son,” Jones said. “She whipped him up and to me that's child abuse."
Jones did not sign the waiver the school sent home asking for permission to paddle her son.

She has filed a notice to sue the Levy County School District.

The school's principal, Jamie Handlin, and the school district would not comment because they're in pre-litigation.

But the principal has said in the past that the waiver is only a courtesy.
Attorney Rush agrees.

And he says Gierrea's mom faces an uphill battle.

In a letter to Gierrea's family, the attorney for the Levy County school district cited criminal child abuse cases that ruled welts and bruises on a child's bottom are not evidence of excessive force.

Still the attorney offered the family $1,000 to settle the case.
Gierrea's mom rejected the offer.

She says there needs to be a consequence for the principal's actions.
"She should be fired,” Jones said. "Put her on suspension or something.”
But attorneys say the most the mom will get is money, or maybe get the school district to change its policy.

It’s been a year since Gierrea was paddled at Joyce Bullock Elementary. And Tenika Jones has demanded no more interaction between the principal and her son.
“This lady is still at this school and ain't nothing happened," Jones said. "So I told her, I say 'ma’am, I don't want you talking to my child.'"

Jones is forced to keep Gierrea enrolled at Joyce Bullock.
It's the only public school in their small town for kindergarten through second grade.

Gierrea will have to stay there for two more years.

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