Reference: AR Code, 6-18-502. Guidelines for development of school district student discipline policies.
"(a)  The Department of Education shall establish guidelines for the development of school district student discipline policies.
...

(f)  Teachers and administrators, classified school employees, and volunteers shall be provided with appropriate student discipline training.
..."

 

On January 12, 2005, I wrote to Senator Jim Argue (Arkansas General Assembly) to ask that he request an opinion of the Attorney General regarding the above part " f " of Title 6, Subtitle 2, Chapter 18, Subchapter 5, section 502 ("Discipline") of the Arkansas Code.

I asked if there was much in the way of a legal burden assigned to school districts by the language in the "student discipline training" part of the above section?  What does it mean?  What kind of training is required?  Is anything implied by including such a directive in The Code?

Since corporal punishment is a specified and prominent part of most Arkansas school district policies and since I think about this issue alot, "student discipline training" easily makes me think of corporal punishment as one of our types of student discipline.  But, "training in corporal punishment?", I asked.  That's absurd!  There's no such thing...  not at any teacher college in the United States.  I'd say that no dean of a college of education in Arkansas will say that teacher training in this state is inadequate or incomplete because of that reality.  To the contrary, teacher colleges today, even in Arkansas, promote positive, effective alternatives to the antiquated, discouraging and punative methods that are more a part of western myth and folklore than the professional educator's knowledge base. 

I know that anyone who uses corporal punishment against children most probably learned whatever they know about it as a recipient of the treatment or as an observer of its use against others.  So paddling teachers know no more about hitting children than the rest of us...  and a lot less than I do.  Most adults' training for the practice of corporal punishment occurred decades ago.  It's not a part of formal training.  Since educators generally represent the same population from which parents and other adult caregivers come, at least some of their "trainers" in administering the punishment were surely sadists.  Of course anyone hitting a child with a board doesn't need to be a sadist to risk causing serious injuries.. 

"Corporal punishment" is an aversive treatment of children made legitimate in our culture by its common use.  Only Mississippi schools use it more.  The Arkansas Legislature permits its use in our public schools but requires that it be administered by a teacher or a school administrator; that is, "those persons employed by a school district and required to have a state-issued certificate as a condition of their employment and [administered] only in the presence of a school administrator or his designee, who shall be a teacher or administrator employed by the school district."

What about state certification qualifies a person to administer or oversee corporal punishment?  There is no system implemented here to evaluate the effectiveness of anyone's application of corporal punishment against children.  We know that mastery of corporal punishment is not part of any teacher's formal preparation to become eligible for "certification".  There is no evidence that such provisions protect children.  Injuries occur every year, so it is silly to pretend that any teacher or administrator can be sufficiently prepared to hit children with a hard object and still provide for children's safety and well being and to assure that they are treated equitably across the state.  Any presumption that the use of corporal punishment requires no "student discipline training" can not be a sincere and thoughtful one.  Hundreds of things professionals administer to and for the public, that might pose even slight risks if done without training or supervision by a sanctioned authority, require a license or certificate to practice.  So, it seems reasonable to suspect that the legislature does not consider corporal punishment "appropriate".  It acknowledged the risks of insult and injury when it authorized spending public money to pay for insurance in order to specifically protect teachers and administrators from civil and criminal liability related to the injurious administration of corporal punishment against pupils. And certainly, if there was any way to train people to hit other people safely and equitably, it would be available somewhere.

Traditionally, "shall" has been the strongest imperative used in legal language and most often implies "must".  If "shall be provided with... training" merely encourages school districts to be ever mindful and diligent regarding preparation of their personnel to do the best job, then why the need for strong language?  The training is obviously mandatory.

What does "appropriate... training" mean?  Perhaps this is another Arkansas law whose definitions can not be defined until the law has been violated.  Like the requirement that corporal punishment be reasonable, maybe the meaning of "appropriate" is only revealed after a transgressor has done something against a child that a civil or criminal court finds other than reasonable.  And only then might that school employee's "student discipline training" be found less than appropriate.  It's a careless guideline.

Hopefully, the legislature wanted school employees to be exposed to the many newer and more positive, effective techniques for maintaining discipline and order in the public schools...  sort of a push toward enlightenment...  a discouragement of corporal punishment and other outdated practices.  I would like to think that the legislature considered corporal punishment other than "appropriate student discipline training".  And I think that it seriously intended to press the school districts to prepare teachers and administrators to learn and use more appropriate (safer, more humane, effective) methods of child management.  Declining in use by small percentages each year, the pace is wrecklessly slow.