NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Legislature on Tuesday passed a bill that bans the spanking of children with disabilities at public schools.
The bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, passed unanimously in the Senate, 28-0. It cleared the House earlier this month.
If signed into law, the measure would bar school officials from using corporal punishment on kids with disabilities, unless their parents give written approval.
A report released last month by the state comptroller’s office found that disabled children in Tennessee schools were getting spanked at a higher rate than other children in recent years. Read the full report here (PDF file).
That report by the Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability has disturbed lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
“The one thing I don’t want is special needs kids being punished because of their special needs,” Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson said, told fellow lawmakers earlier this month. “If a kid with hearing problems was punished for not responding appropriately or something like that, that would be awful.”
Earlier this month, the Legislature passed a bill that would require public schools in Tennessee to report to the state Department of Education on their use of corporal punishment. If the governor signs that bill, school systems would have to give details that include each school where children were spanked, the reason corporal punishment was used and whether the discipline involved a disabled student. In cases where the children have special needs, the report must describe the type of disability the student has.
Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville, was the primary sponsor of both the bill that would require mandatory reports of spanking and the one that bars the use of corporal punishment on disabled children without written permission by parents.
Tennessee is one of 22 states that allow corporal punishment in public schools, either because it is explicitly permitted or there is no reference to it in state law, according to the report released by the comptroller’s office.