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Texas lawmakers on Wednesday voted against a bill that would prohibit public school employees from using corporal punishment on students.
House Bill 772 received a 58-86 vote in the lower chamber. Rep. Alma Allen, a Houston Democrat and former public school educator, has carried a bill to eliminate the controversial practice in each biennial session for the past 18 years. The bill passed 5-2 out of the Select Committee on Youth Health and Safety earlier this month.
On the House Floor on Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, and Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, said schools should be able to continue using corporal punishment, which includes hitting, spanking, paddling or deliberately inflicting physical pain on a student’s body to discipline them.
“Kids do need to fear leadership,” Toth said. “And so I ask respectfully that we adhere to that in our schools.”
Arguing against the bill, Schaefer referenced a biblical proverb that he said endorses disciplining children. “We will be wise members to follow the design that God has for disciplining children,” Schaefer said.
Texas educators can use physical means of punishment if a school’s board of trustees adopts a policy allowing it. However, a parent in one of those districts can opt a student out of receiving corporal punishment by providing a written notice to the district.
It is not entirely clear how many districts in Texas use corporal punishment. A report by the Intercultural Development Research Association found that during the 2017-18 school year, 1,165 Texas schools used the practice to discipline nearly 13,000 students. The nonprofit found that Black students and students with disabilities were disproportionately impacted.
A wide body of research has found that corporal punishment can be harmful to students both physically and psychologically. During a public hearing earlier this month, parents and disability rights activists spoke against the practice and urged the Legislature to ban it.
Clayton Travis, director of advocacy and health policy for the Texas Pediatric Society, said he and other medical professionals have seen kids who suffer from fear and anxiety after facing physical violence from adults. He said nonviolent practices, such as setting boundaries and using positive reinforcement, are more effective discipline tools.
“I’d like for schools to be [students’] happy place where they learn and where they are very comfortable,” Allen said on the House floor. “Not where they’re going to get beat.”
Adoneca Fortier, legislative director for Allen, said the representative will carry the bill again during Texas’ 89th legislative session in 2025 if asked. Allen was not immediately available for comment.
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Clarification, : An earlier version of this story reported that Texas is one of 19 states where corporal punishment is legal in public schools. The practice is legal in 18 states, and 1 of those states — Idaho — has passed a law that would ban the practice starting on July 1.