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A Texas principal was arrested after paddling a student. Now, he's back at work

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Corporal punishment, paddling or hitting students, is still legal in 16 states' public schools, including Texas. In September, a principal in rural northeast district of Overton, Texas, was arrested after paddling a student and allegedly leaving bruises. He's now back on the job. Reporter Bill Zeeble with member station KERA visited Overton to see if officials there are rethinking the policy.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We call our regular meeting of Board of Trustees of Overton ISD. The first item is our Pledge of Allegiance.

BILL ZEEBLE, BYLINE: It's Monday, October 9 in Overton, Texas, population 3,023. This is the first regular school board meeting since the senior high principal was arrested last month for hitting a student with a wooden paddle. In bigger cities, parents might pack the boardroom after such an arrest - not here. No parents showed up. Longtime board president Shane McCasland thinks he knows why.

SHANE MCCASLAND: As far as from the parents within the city here, within the district, most everyone has been supportive of the district as a whole. 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.

ZEEBLE: McCasland says the best interest today is to keep the paddling policy in place. The principal's back at work after he was arrested for assault, then posted a $2,000 bond the same day. The district attorney is investigating. Here's what we know about what happened on August 14. An Overton High School girl - her name and age haven't been released - was being punished for an infraction and faced in-school suspension or three paddles. With permission from both the girl and her mother, Principal Jeffrey 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 two 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 is consistent with child abuse.

ALLISON JACKSON: Physical uses of force are really not the way to teach children right from wrong.

ZEEBLE: Pediatrician Allison Jackson specializes in child abuse cases. She sees no justification for hitting a child. She's a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics and says all research, national and international, is overwhelming. There are no benefits from corporal punishment, she says, only a high likelihood of harm.

JACKSON: What corporal punishment teaches is that it's OK to hit somebody if you can justify it. I don't think that's really a lesson we want to teach children.

ZEEBLE: 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.

JORDAN POLVE: If you're too excessive, you're too excessive. 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.

ZEEBLE: In a March letter from the 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 those with a disability disproportionately receive corporal punishment. That raises serious concerns about equity and racial justice. When it comes to education, Dr. Jackson recommends positive reinforcement - praising good behavior as opposed to hitting to correct bad behavior. Taking away privileges can work, too, she says. So can giving kids a time-out. Martin Holsome, a parent of four in the same county as Overton, dismisses all those options.

MARTIN HOLSOME: I would rather get my butt busted as a kid than be grounded. 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 get back to doing what I'm doing.

ZEEBLE: When we talked, Holsom was cutting trees deep in an East Texas pine forest. He's a logger who believes in corporal punishment, saying it can change bad behavior as long as the child is told why the spanking is about to happen. He says Texas needs to keep corporal punishment or pay a price.

HOLSOME: 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.

ZEEBLE: Actually, says pediatrician Jackson, research in the past decade says 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 says he grew up with corporal punishment and so did his seven kids.

MCCASLAND: I have done it. And I have two boys in the military now supporting our country and another out working and one in college.

ZEEBLE: So from your perspective, they came out OK.

MCCASLAND: Yes, sir.

ZEEBLE: The DA's office is still investigating the corporal punishment case in Overton, but Superintendent Larry Calhoun defends the principal, saying he fulfilled the request of the parent and followed district policy to a T. For NPR News, I'm Bill Zeeble in Overton, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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