Paddling, spanking, and other forms of corporal punishment used to be common in classrooms. But as views about the wisdom of hitting children changed over time, many states passed laws prohibiting or restricting the practice in their schools. By now, states that allow corporal punishment in schools are in the minority. Georgia is one of those states.
Below is a summary of Georgia law on corporal punishment in schools. (Because states can change their laws at any time, it’s always a good idea to check the current statute using this search tool.)
School Districts Decide
In Georgia, local school districts or counties may adopt their own policies on corporal punishment in public schools. (Ga. Code § 20-2-730.)
Restrictions on Corporal Punishment
If local schools authorize principals or teachers to use corporal punishment, they must meet a few state requirements:
- Not the first choice (usually). In general, teachers shouldn’t resort to corporal punishment as their first response to misbehaving students, unless the misconduct was shockingly antisocial or disruptive, or the students had received a warning that certain types of wrongdoing would result in physical discipline.
- Within limits. Corporal punishment shouldn’t be “excessive or unduly severe.”
- Witness. A school principal, assistant principal, or someone standing in for a principal must be in the room as a witness when the child is being disciplined. The teacher or other principal who’s administering the corporal punishment must tell the witness the reasons for it ahead of time, in the student’s presence.
- Information for parents. If the student’s parents request it, the teacher or principal must give them a written statement explaining the reasons for the corporal punishment and the name of the witness.
- Medical exception. Any parents who don’t want corporal punishment used on their child have to get a doctor (with a Georgia medical license) to state that it would hurt the child’s mental or emotional stability. The parents must file the physician’s statement with the principal’s office on the first day the student is enrolled in the school.
(Ga. Code §§ 20-2-730, 20-2-731.)
What Exactly Is Corporal Punishment?
Georgia law doesn’t give a definition of corporal punishment in the context of schools, but international human rights law defines it as any punishment involving physical force that’s meant to cause some amount of pain or discomfort.
Legal Protection for Teachers and Principals
Under Georgia law, teachers and principals won’t be found guilty of a crime or liable in a civil lawsuit for using corporal punishment, as long as:
- they acted "in good faith"
- they followed local school policies and regulations, and
- the punishment wasn't excessive or unduly severe.
Also, the written statement to the child’s parents about the corporal punishment can’t be used as evidence in a related civil case. (Ga. Code §§ 20-2-731, 20-2-732.)
Although Georgia’s laws don’t spell out what kind of physical discipline would “excessive or unduly severe,” one appellate court in the state found that paddling a student didn’t qualify. Even though the paddling was painful and left bruises, the court said that’s to be expected with corporal punishment. Because the student didn’t experience more than temporary discomfort, the court threw out the parents’ lawsuit against the principal and the school district. (Maddox v. Boutwell, 336 S.E.2d 599 (Ga. App. 1985).) But in another case where a student’s arm was broken while the principal was trying to spank him, the court allowed the parents’ lawsuit to go forward so that a jury could decide if the principal had violated the legal guidelines. (Crews v. McQueen, 385 S.E.2d 712 (Ga. App. 1989).)
What About Private Schools?
Georgia’s laws on corporal punishment in schools don’t mention private schools, so they’re free to adopt their own policies on the use of physical discipline.
Talking to Your Lawyer
If a teacher or other school employee has hurt your child in the course of discipline, consider talking to a lawyer about your legal options. An attorney experienced in a field like personal injury or education law should be able to explain the state and local rules that apply. Even if your local school authorizes corporal punishment, a lawyer could explore the legal reasons (or “grounds”) you might have for a civil lawsuit against the responsible employee and/or the school, including: