Folio Weekly — Why do some Florida schools still practice paddling?

Folio Weekly
Why do some Florida schools use the medieval practice of paddling?
Folio Weekly ran a cover page story about corporal punishment still being used in some Florida schools. The story, which quotes COE special education professor Joe Gagnon, is based on research Gagnon collected with COE co-researcher Brianna Kennedy-Lewis.


Huffington Post — Why some Florida school principals still spank students

Huffington Post
Why some school principals in Florida still spank students
The Huffington Post posted a story quoting UF special education professor Joe Gagnon and other sources about the ineffectiveness and counter-productivity of using corporal punishment on students. The story is based on Gagnon’s research with UF professor Brianna Kennedy-Lewis, and was developed into a news release distributed nationally by the COE and UF news and communications offices.

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UF researchers call for immediate end to corporal punishment in all Florida schools

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A team of University of Florida researchers is calling for an immediate end to paddling students in all state public schools, citing its new study of classroom disciplinary trends that depicts corporal punishment as violent and outdated, and a source of complications such as increased dropout rates and lawsuits.

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In a monograph sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center, UF doctoral student Sungur Gurel (left) and College of Education faculty researchers Brianna Kennedy-Lewis and Joseph Gagnon call for abolishment of corporal punishment in Florida schools.

The team’s 33-page research report shows corporal punishment persists in nearly half of Florida school districts, mostly in the state’s rural northern counties, and “it’s the youngest, most impressionable children – elementary school students – who most often are subjected” to paddling.

“Paddling is archaic,” said Joseph Gagnon, a UF College of Education associate professor of special education and one of the report’s three authors. “We need to spread awareness that scientific evidence increasingly justifies abolishing corporal punishment in favor of more effective, positive ways to manage classroom behavior.”

Gagnon said most current research shows paddling has little or no positive long-term effect on students, can lower their self-esteem, and instill hostility and rage without curbing the undesired behavior, “yet there are still pockets of Florida and other states where corporal punishment continues to be used.”

Paddling in schools has been banned in 31 states, and the UF report cites 16 national expert organizations that have categorically opposed and discredited corporal punishment. They include the National Education Association, American Bar Association, American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, and national associations for both elementary and secondary school principals. The study report also lists nearly 100 published research citations and references.

The UF study was funded by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an internationally known civil rights and social justice activist organization based in Montgomery, Ala. The SPLC is pushing for the elimination of corporal punishment in school systems in Florida and across the nation.

Tania Galloni, an attorney with the SPLC’s Miami office, said the emotional and psychological damage done to a child who has been paddled is reason enough to end corporal punishment.

“(Paddling) is a tightly controlled form of school-sponsored violence, and it undermines the notion that a school is supposed to be a place where children feel safe,” Galloni said.

In Florida during the 2012-2013 school year, 28 of 67 school districts administered corporal punishment, according to the Florida Department of Education.

The UF report shows the Suwannee County district, with a student population of nearly 6,000 at the time of the survey, led the state with 359 paddling instances. Holmes County, with more than 3,300 students enrolled, was next with 306 instances.

Madison and Holmes counties also had the highest percentage of students experiencing corporal punishment during the 2010-2011 school year, according to the UF study. Each showed nearly 10 percent of its students being paddled. Washington County was third on the list with almost 9 percent of 3,485 students being paddled. The remaining 25 school districts using corporal punishment, on average, paddled less than 2 percent of their students, with eight districts reporting rates below 1 percent.

Gagnon and co-author Brianna L. Kennedy-Lewis, an assistant professor of curriculum, teaching and teacher education, have presented their research findings to Florida legislators and are working with the SPLC to target other education leaders, policymakers and the general public to raise awareness for the need to end paddling.

Gagnon, Kennedy-Lewis and Sungur Gurel, a doctoral student and statistician, spent eight months researching and writing their findings and recommendations. Gagnon evaluated public data on Florida schools’ use of corporal punishment and similar approaches to discipline. He also surveyed Florida principals to identify the use of preventive strategies and other non-violent, research-proven approaches to student behavior management.

Kennedy-Lewis interviewed 36 school administrators representing 27 Florida school districts that allowed corporal punishment.

“We were trying to find out what drives the whole punitive approach,” Kennedy-Lewis said. “As it turns out, many school administrators would just as soon do away with this type of punishment.”

The researchers made six recommendations, including abolishing corporal punishment at the federal, state and local levels, and closely scrutinizing the disproportionate punishment of males, African American students, those with disabilities and other vulnerable student groups.

They also urged schools to implement or broaden proactive, research-proven strategies for handling discipline without punitive paddling, such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). The PBIS approach involves tailored interventions for individuals and specific student groups that, in addition to social and emotional skills training, can include counseling programs and peer tutoring.

   UF SOURCE: Joseph Gagnon, associate professor, UF College of Education;; 352-273-4262
   UF SOURCE: Brianna L. Kennedy-Lewis, assistant professor, UF College of Education;; 352-273-4041
   SPLC SOURCE: Tania Galloni, attorney, Southern Poverty Law Center;; 305-537-0573
   WRITER: Stephen Kindland, staff writer, UF College of Education; 352-273-4449
   MEDIA LIAISON: Larry Lansford, communications director, UF College of Education;; 352-273-4137


School discipline researcher suggests alternatives to out-of-school suspensions

(In a recent guest column in the Gainesville Sun, titled “Curbing the need to suspend,” retired teacher Greg Marshall applauded local efforts to curb the use of suspension as punishment in public schools. Instead of suspensions, Marshall asserted that by understanding students’ impoverished backgrounds, educators can help students meet the school’s “hidden” middle class expectations. Below, in an open letter responding to Marshall’s column, Brianna Kennedy-Lewis, an assistant professor in UF’s School of Teaching and Learning and a school discipline researcher, counters that educators must change how we think about student behavior and learning so “our focus is on students’ strengths and schools’ failures, rather than on schools’ strengths and students’ failures.”)

Brianna Kennedy-Lewis

Brianna Kennedy-Lewis

Here is her letter:

Greg Marshall’s recent article in the Gainesville Sun applauded the Alachua County School Board’s plan to host a workshop to address the overuse of out-of-school suspensions. As a former middle school teacher and current school discipline researcher, I echo his applause. However, I disagree with Mr. Marshall’s belief that using author Ruby Payne’s “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” will solve the problem. Payne’s framework asserts that all students living in poverty have negative backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences that cause them to misbehave and fail in school. Payne believes that by understanding students’ impoverished backgrounds, educators can help students meet the school’s middle class expectations. Although Payne’s work has no scientific basis, it is appealing because it gives educators a non-threatening way to diagnose difficulties without challenging our assumptions.

Scientific research and the experiences of many educators tell a story much different than Payne’s. There is a national discipline gap between White students and students of color. Research has shown that whether or not they are poor, students of color are punished three-and-a-half times more frequently than Whites for similar offenses and the punishments are harsher. We know that out-of-school suspensions do not result only from the misbehavior of students living in poverty. Instead, educators’ beliefs, judgments, and responses to students play a critical role in the school discipline landscape.

As educators, our views of student behavior, instructional decisions, classroom management practices, and even the curriculum we teach, reflect our cultural backgrounds, which often differ from those of our students. As students become increasingly diverse across the nation, educators face the challenge of providing responsive school environments. Twenty-first century educators must understand and build upon the values and interactional styles of their students rather than following Payne’s recommendation to hold students accountable for middle class expectations. As educators, we must change how we think about student behavior and learning so that our focus is on students’ strengths and schools’ failures rather than on schools’ strengths and students’ failures. We educators have the power and responsibility to impart radical respect for students and families, invest tirelessly in building relationships with all students, and work creatively and collaboratively to provide relevant instruction for all. Focusing on these areas of educational practice will help us avoid many of the interactions that currently lead to out-of-school suspensions.

When disciplinary consequences are necessary, educators should replace out-of-school suspensions with developmentally appropriate, research-based, and effective alternatives. The National School Boards Association has recently released a policy guide (available online) outlining practical steps that school districts around the country are taking to reduce out-of-school suspensions.

(Editor’s Note: The Alachua County School Board hosted a public workshop July 11 on this issue. ACSB Chairwoman Eileen Roy said the next step is to create a committee to help school administrators get the right resources for providing alternatives to suspension.)

Brianna L. Kennedy-Lewis, Ph.D., UF College of Education;


Diversity committee campaign addresses school equity issues

The 11-by-17-inch poster, taped to a women’s bathroom door in Norman Hall, offered a sad-but- true fact about sexual orientation and tolerance–or lack of same–in America’s public schools.

The bright orange-and-white poster’s message read: “Did you know. . .Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning youth hear anti-gay slurs on average once every 14 minutes at school?”

Members of the COE Faculty Policy Council's Diversity Committee display posters they developed for a collegewide diversity awareness campaign. Pictured, clockwise from left, are: Brianna Kennedy-Lewis, Bridgett Franks (chair), Maria Coady, Theresa Vernetson, Elayne Colon and Erica McCray. Not pictured are Shelley Warm and Michael Bowie. (Photo and story by Nicole La Hoz)

COE assistant professor Brianna Kennedy-Lewis, member of the college’s diversity committee, had hung the poster recently as part of a collegewide campaign, but found it in a hallway trash can the next day.

“I don’t know who took it down or why,” said Kennedy-Lewis, an instructor in curriculum, teaching and teacher education. “It justifies further that we need to be raising these issues.”

The poster is part of a diversity awareness campaign coordinated by the COE’s nine-member diversity committee, including eight faculty (chair Bridget Franks, Kennedy-Lewis, Maria Coady, Ana Puig, Erica McCray, Theresa Vernetson, Elayne Colon and Shelley Warm) and Michael Bowie, director of COE recruitment, retention and multicultural affairs.

The committee, charged by the College’s Faculty Policy Council, makes recommendations concerning diversity at the college and in the community.

Eight sets of six “Did you know…” posters have been placed throughout Norman Hall. Each poster targets an issue of inequity in public schools, such as access for students with disabilities or high-quality schooling for at-risk youth and minorities, and promotes projects of faculty committee members addressing those issues. Featured projects include Coady’s Project DELTA, a grant-funded study that looks at how well graduates of UF’s Elementary ProTeach program do at teaching English-language learners in Florida’s schools, and Franks’ collaboration with the Human Rights Council of North Central Florida on an anti-bullying initiative in Alachua County public schools.

The “Did you know…” project began last year when committee members discussed creating posters that detailed ongoing projects in the college. They then agreed to broaden the focus to include intersections between diversity-related programs at the college and concerns in public education.

The Diversity Committee first met as a task force in 2009, advising the college on creating a safe and accepting environment for all faculty, students and staff. Now, the committee hopes to gather other faculty members’ work—and even projects by graduate students—to include in the next academic year on a new set of posters.

“These issues of equity,” Kennedy-Lewis said, “are what we’re all about as a college of education.”

Brianna Kennedy-Lewis, asst. professor, UF College of Education, 352-273-4041; email

WRITER/PHOTOGRAPHER: Nicole La Hoz, communications intern, UF College of Education, 352-273-4449;

Larry Lansford, director, news & communications, UF College of Education, 352-273-4137;