Education Law

Corporal Punishment in Schools: Can Teachers Hit My Child?

By E.A. Gjelten, Author and Editor
In most states, public school teachers and principals aren’t allowed to punish students by causing physical pain. But corporal punishment is still allowed in many states—especially in the South.

Paddling, spanking, and other forms of discipline meant to cause pain—known as corporal punishment—used to be common in schools. As views about this practice changed, some parents and children filed lawsuits claiming that corporal punishment violated their constitutional rights. In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment didn’t apply to discipline in schools (Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651 (1977).) That means it’s still up to individual states to decide whether to allow the practice.

Growing Trend Away From Corporal Punishment

At the time of the Ingraham decision, only two states—New Jersey and Massachusetts—prohibited the practice in schools. In the years since then, the picture has changed significantly. By 2017, 29 states (plus Washington, D.C.) barred corporal punishment in public schools, while 21 states allowed it, left the decision up to local school districts, or simply didn't prohibit the practice.

Regional Differences

Even in the states that allow corporal punishment, many large urban and suburban school districts have policies against it. Still, the practice remains common in Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi, as well as in rural districts in some other states. And the law in several states protects teachers and administrators from criminal prosecution, civil lawsuits, or child abuse charges for using corporal punishment, as long as they’ve followed school policies. That means that the same action—like paddling a child with a stick that leaves serious bruising—could be allowed if a teacher does it but considered child abuse if a parent does it.

Restrictions and Exceptions

On the one hand, many states that allow corporal punishment in schools place some restrictions on it—ranging from general language (such as simply saying it should be “reasonable”) to specific requirements about who can use it, where, and in whose presence. On the other hand, most states banning the practice have exceptions that allow teachers and other school employees to use physical force in certain situations, usually when it’s needed to prevent physical injury or property damage. But in all states, teachers, principals, and other school employees could face criminal charges or civil lawsuits if they use excessive force and students suffer serious injuries as a result.

Click on the links in the table below for more comprehensive information on the laws in individual states. (If you don't see a link to your state, check back later. This site is still under construction.)

State

Highlights of Relevant Laws

Alabama

Allows corporal punishment

Alaska

Prohibits corporal punishment in public schools; imposes requirements for its use in private schools

Arizona

Allows local districts to decide whether to authorize corporal punishment

Arkansas

Allows corporal punishment

California

Prohibits corporal punishment in public schools; allows reasonable force in certain circumstances

Colorado

Doesn't prohibit corporal punishment except for students with intellectual or development disabilities; imposes restrictions on local policies

Connecticut

Prohibits corporal punishment in public schools

Delaware

Prohibits corporal punishment in public schools

Florida

State allows corporal punishment, but local districts may ban

Georgia

Allows local districts to authorize corporal punishment, with restrictions

Hawaii

Prohibits corporal punishment

Idaho

Doesn't prohibit corporal punishment

Illinois

Prohibits corporal punishment in public schools; allows reasonable force in certain circumstances; limits on use of physical restraint

Indiana

Doesn't prohibit corporal punishment

Iowa

Prohibits corporal punishment in public and accredited private schools

Kansas

Doesn't prohibit corporal punishment

Kentucky

Doesn't prohibit corporal punishment

Louisiana

Allows corporal punishment

Maine

Doesn't prohibit corporal punishment

Maryland

Prohibits corporal punishment in public schools

Massachusetts

Prohibits corporal punishment in public schools; allows reasonable force in certain circumstances

Michigan

Prohibits corporal punishment in public schools; allows reasonable force in certain circumstances

Minnesota

Prohibits corporal punishment in public schools; allows reasonable force in certain circumstances

Mississippi

Allows corporal punishment

Missouri

Allows corporal punishment; local districts must have policy on the practice

Montana

Prohibits corporal punishment in public schools

Nebraska

Prohibits corporal punishment in public schools

Nevada

Prohibits corporal punishment in public schools

New Hampshire

Doesn't prohibit corporal punishment; allows use of force in certain circumstances

New Jersey

Prohibits corporal punishment in public and private schools; allows reasonable force in certain circumstances

New Mexico

Prohibits corporal punishment in public schools

New York

Prohibits corporal punishment in public and private schools; allows reasonable force in certain circumstances

North Carolina

Local districts decide, with restrictions and parental opt out

North Dakota

Prohibits corporal punishment in public schools

Ohio

Prohibits corporal punishment in public schools; allows reasonable force in certain circumstances

Oklahoma

Allows corporal punishment

Oregon

Prohibits corporal punishment in public schools

Pennsylvania

Prohibits corporal punishment in public schools; allows reasonable force in certain circumstances

Rhode Island

Prohibits corporal punishment in public schools

South Carolina

Allows local districts to decide whether to authorize corporal punishment, with restrictions

South Dakota

Prohibits corporal punishment in public schools

Tennessee

Allows use of corporal punishment in public schools (but not charter schools) by teachers and principals only; local school districts may ban the practice; other school employees may use physical force in certain circumstances

Texas

Allows corporal punishment under local district policy; requires parental opt out

Utah

Prohibits corporal punishment in public schools; allowed with parental permission

Vermont

Prohibits corporal punishment in public and independent schools

Virginia

Prohibits corporal punishment in public schools; allows reasonable force in certain circumstances

Washington

Prohibits corporal punishment in public schools; allows reasonable force in certain circumstances

West Virginia

Prohibits corporal punishment in public schools

Wisconsin

Prohibits corporal punishment in public schools; allows reasonable force in certain circumstances

Wyoming

Allows corporal punishment

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