Oklahoma lawmakers struck down a bill on Tuesday that, if passed, would have ended the use of corporal punishment on disabled students.
Corporal punishment is defined in the bill as a “deliberate infliction of physical pain by hitting, paddling, spanking, slapping or any other physical force used as a means of discipline.” The legislation would have prohibited the use of this form of punishment on disabled students in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
The bill’s vote was 45-43 in favor of its passage, according to KFOR. But the bill ultimately failed because a majority of 51 lawmakers was needed to pass.
Rep. John Talley (R) authored the bill, stating that physical punishment on disabled students “does not belong in the classroom” and that “accountability and grace go hand in hand,” KFOR reports. But other Republicans voted against the bill, with some citing scriptures as justification.
“Proverbs 29: ‘The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame,’” Rep. Jim Olsen (R) said, adding that the biblical line seems to “endorse the use of corporal punishment.”
He also provided an example from a constituent who said his disabled child “did not respond to positive motivation,” but “responded very well to corporal punishment.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Cyndi Munson (D), who voted in favor of the bill, opened up about her experiences with childhood abuse and why corporal punishment should be prohibited.
“My mother used chopsticks to slap my back … She pulled my hair so I would listen to her, so I would behave,” she said, adding that she spent over a decade working with psychologists and therapists to work through her childhood trauma.
She said her father used positive reinforcement and spoke kindly to encourage her and her siblings to behave. But she added that the amount of love he gave her was — through no fault of his own — not enough to outweigh how her mother treated them.
“So imagine a child going to school, who doesn’t ‘behave,’” she said. “Whether they have a disability or not, a child must go somewhere safe.”
According to the Hechinger Report, 19 states, including Oklahoma, permit the use of corporal punishment on students in public schools. Nationally, more than 69,000 students received corporal punishment almost 97,000 times during the 2017-18 school year.
A recent study found that out of the estimated 291 million disabled children and adolescents worldwide, nearly a third of them have experienced violence, NPR reports. In addition, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), disabled students face disproportionately high rates of corporal punishment nationwide, often being subjected to it as a means of discipline for behaviors related to their disabilities and conditions, such as Tourette’s syndrome and autism.
For example, in Tennessee, disabled students are paddled at more than twice the rate as the general population of students. But the ACLU stated that these statistics are likely an undercount of violence faced by disabled students because there is no mandated report of the many types of corporal punishment that occur.
The use of force and harmful punishments is not a new or uncommon experience for disabled people, advocates note. For example, author s.e. smith pointed out in a tweet responding to the Oklahoma bill’s failure claiming that the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Massachusetts has been using electric shock devices on autistic students, despite decades-long attempts from advocates to put an end to it.
According to the Disability Rights and Education Fund (DREDF), children use behavior to communicate needs. As a result, they risk losing educational benefits by inappropriately disciplining, suspending, or placing them in restrictive settings.
Schools across the U.S. have instead adopted Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), an evidence-based, tiered framework used to support students’ behavioral, academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs and greatly benefits disabled students.