Corporal punishment in schools is still around, and Kentucky schools are dithering about whether they want it to go away.

The current state statute on violence by teachers against students is KRS 503.110. It says that teachers and caregivers are allowed to use physical force as punishment if “the force used is necessary to promote the welfare of a minor or mentally disabled person,” and if it “is not designed to cause or known to create a substantial risk of causing death, serious physical injury, disfigurement, extreme pain or extreme mental distress.” That knowledge being left entirely up to the judgment of the disciplinarian, of course.

Most Kentucky school districts are on board with this being an absolutely unreasonable allowance, and either ban corporal punishment entirely or specifically ban it from being used on special education students.

But four districts explicitly permit it, and eleven have no policy with regards to corporal punishment at all.

The Kentucky Board of Education is meeting on Wednesday to discuss a new proposed regulation which would put more limits on corporal punishment in schools. It wouldn’t ban it, still, but it would place tighter regulations around it and fully exempt students with disabilities, students in foster care, and students experiencing homelessness from the practice. It would also require counseling to be available to any student subject to corporal punishment.

In 2019, the Department of Education passed Kentucky’s School Safety and Resiliency Act, which requires teachers take into account the factors fueling any student’s behavior. This trauma-informed approach is, according to many, incompatible with a system that allows its teachers to be the ones inflicting trauma.

“There is a persistent rub between a requirement for trauma-informed discipline and this ability to use corporal punishment in schools,” said Matthew Coutney in testimony last week, before the Local Superintendents Advisory Council. Courtney is a policy adviser to the Kentucky DoE’s Office of Continuous Improvement and Support.

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