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Texas principal's arrest after paddling student sparks new debate over corporal punishment

A set of gray lockers in a school gym locker room.
Patricia Lim
No parents were in attendance at the first meeting of the Overton school board following a high school principal's arrest.

It's 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 9, in Overton, Texas, population 3,023.

In the old church chapel-turned administration building for the Overton Independent School District, it’s time for the first regular school board meeting since the senior high principal was arrested last month for hitting a student with a wooden paddle — something allowed under district policy.

In bigger cities, parents might pack the board room after such an arrest. Not here. No parents showed up.

Long-time board president Shane McCasland said he thinks he knows why.

“As far as from the parents within the city here, within the district, most everyone has been supportive of the district as a whole,” McCasland said. ”We have had feedback from outside the district, some negative. But I think you always evaluate what's in the best interest of our students.”

McCasland believes the best interest may be to keep the paddling policy in place.

Meanwhile, the principal is back on the job as the district attorney investigates what happened on Aug. 14.

An Overton high school girl — her name and age haven’t been released — was being punished for an infraction and was given the choice between in-school suspension or three paddles. With permission from both the girl and her mother, principal Jeffery Hogg proceeded to strike her with a wooden paddle. The second hit was reportedly harder than the first, and the girl wanted the paddling stopped. But her mother and Hogg said one final hit and the punishment would be over. She agreed.

Within 2 days, visible bruising appeared, according to a complaint filed with the Rusk County Sheriff. She was examined by a nurse at the Child Advocacy Center, an agency that investigates child abuse. Photos were taken. A forensic pediatrician who looked at them told the Texas Tribune signs of physical punishment lasting longer than 24 hours are consistent with child abuse.

Dr. Allison Jackson, a pediatrician and expert on child abuse cases, is also a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The AAP opposes corporal punishment.

“Physical uses of force are really not a way to teach children right from wrong,” Jackson said.

She sees no justification for hitting a child. Jackson said national and international research is overwhelming — there are no benefits from corporal punishment, she said, only “a high likelihood of harm.”

"What corporal punishment teaches is that it's okay to hit somebody if you can justify it," she said. "I don't think that's really a lesson we want to teach children."

Jordan Polve, a former Overton ISD student and now mom of her own 8-year-old daughter, is usually OK with corporal punishment at home or in school. But she thinks in this case, the principal went too far.

“If you're too excessive, you're too excessive,” Polve told KERA. “I don't leave bruises on my own kids, so therefore, I don't think it's OK for somebody else to leave a bruise on a child, period.”

In a March letter, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona agreed, urging states still allowing corporal punishment to condemn and eliminate it.

Studies have also found Black students and students with disabilities disproportionately receive corporal punishment. That raises serious issues about equity and racial justice when it comes to education.

Jackson recommends positive reinforcement, praising good behavior as opposed to hitting to correct bad behavior. Taking away privileges can work too, she said; so can giving kids a time out.

Martin Holsome, a parent of four children in the same county as Overton, dismisses all of those options.

“I would rather get my butt busted as a kid than be grounded,” Holsome said. “I'd rather get my butt busted as a kid than hear a lecture. Just go ahead and whip me, get it over with, so I can go back to doing what I'm doing.”

Holsome said corporal punishment can change bad behavior as long as the child is told why the spanking’s about to happen. He said Texas needs to keep corporal punishment — or pay a price.

“You'll have a 25-year-old living in your basement needing a safe space, or in prison, for the taxpayers to take care of,” Holsome said.

Actually, said pediatrician Jackson, research in the past decade shows children who are hit may be more likely to end up in prison at taxpayers' expense than those who aren’t.

At the Overton school board meeting, board chair McCasland said he grew up with corporal punishment, and so did his seven kids.

"I have done it,” he said. “And I have two boys in the military now supporting our country and another out working and one in college.”

The DA’s office is still investigating the corporal punishment case in Overton.

Superintendent Larry Calhoun defends his principal, saying Jeffery Hogg fulfilled the request of the parent and followed district policy to a T.

Copyright 2023 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.
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