Corporal punishment, probably the oldest form of discipline by parents and elders, has for several decades encountered much criticism, including scholars, commentators, counseling professionals, as well as other parents. The issue has not escaped lawyers and courts either. Across the country, attorneys, on behalf of the parents who hire them, have brought lawsuits against teachers, schools, and day care centers that utilize physical contact with children for purposes of restraining and/or discipline. But with such history behind the method, society has mixed feelings on its use.
Law professors Aaron D. Twerski and James A. Henderson, Jr. describe this chronicle of child control:
“The utilization of corporal punishment to discipline children is deeply rooted in American culture. The Bible, itself, repeatedly sanctions the use of physical force as a means of controlling wayward children. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the law privileges parents to use reasonable physical force in disciplining their children. Teachers and other school officials also possess a similar privilege to inflict reasonable corporal punishment upon students.”
Twerski and Henderson cite a few examples to illustrate the discourse among various courts, such as Roy v. Continental Insurance Co., 313 So. 2d 349 (La. Ct. App. 1975) (four or five paddle strokes to student’s buttocks is reasonable punishment); O’Rourke v. Walker, 128 A. 25 (Conn. 1925) (eight strokes on each student’s hands could be found to be reasonable punishment); Baikie v. Luther High School, 366 N.E.2d 542 (ill. App. Ct. 1977) (forcibly thrusting a student into a locker could be found to be unreasonable punishment) Neil v. Fulton Cty. Board, 229 F.3d 1069 (11th Cir. 2000) (hitting a student in the eye with a metal lock could be found to be unreasonable punishment).
Oklahoma is rare in that we expressly permit individuals to use reasonable force in child discipline. Section 844 of Title 21, Okla. Stat., provides that “any parent, teacher or other person [may use] ordinary force as a means of discipline, including but not limited to spanking, switching or paddling.” This section is actually found in the criminal child abuse statutes and is meant to exclude those examples of reasonable physical force from criminal prosecution for child abuse. Thus, Oklahoma defendants have an affirmative defense, codified in statute, against child abuse if they were in the act of disciplining a child and their use of force was reasonable.