SADOW: Hilferty’s Bill Keeps Parents From Helpful Discipline

A bill wending its way through the Louisiana Legislature risks disrupting how families raise children, with potential detrimental effects in schools.

HB 324 by Republican state Rep. Stephanie Hilferty would prohibit corporal punishment in public elementary and secondary schools. Proponents allege that side effects from it that increase unfavorable outcomes such as facilitating the belief that violence acceptably solves problems and outweigh any disciplinary benefits. Argumentation such as that won over a majority of a House panel that recently advanced the bill.

The research, to a certain point, bears that out. However, the problem studies of this have faced is the inability to ameliorate negative outcomes that occur in the absence of spanking as disciplinary tool. In other words, no alternative child disciplinary technique has been identified that can convey the same benefits as corporal punishment, so schools without it must endure the negative spillover effect of greater disciplinary problems.

In fact, when spanking used not as a frontline parenting strategy but as one of many disciplinary tools and best serving as a backstop to non-physical punishments, typically over time this sparing use of it as a last resort leads to eliminating the need to use it, which in the aggregate creates on balance more beneficial outcomes than not employing it as a part of that strategy. Schools easily can and do replicate this model.

Schools also serve as an extension of family disciplining efforts as the state forces children to attend school typically away from parents’ immediate presence during the school day. Thus, parents who wish to employ spanking as a disciplining strategy should have the right to delegate to schools the ability to carry out this when they aren’t in a position to enforce discipline.

Which current Louisiana policy sensibly allows at present. It first leaves it up to school districts to decide whether their schools will serve up corporal punishment as an option, and if a district chooses that option then regulates how that may be done in the safest manner. It also allows parents who don’t see spanking as a beneficial part of a disciplinary strategy in districts that permit this to prohibit schools from punishing their children this way.

This arrangement works out excellently. It provides local control over whether to administer corporal punishment, and families to opt out of it where it’s permitted. For those who would like to employ it as part of a disciplinary strategy in a district that prohibits it, they may lobby their school board to change that. But in removing the option the bill disrupts family prerogative and choice in this ability to pursue a suite of disciplinary measures that prove optimal in childrearing. Failure to allow this could spill over into more unruly behavior in schools, causing more distress to others and sabotaging the educational function.

For these reasons HB 324 merits rejection. Legislators should see to that.

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