Education Law

Tennessee Laws on Corporal Punishment in Schools

By E.A. Gjelten, Author and Editor
Tennessee allows public school teachers and principals to use corporal punishment, but some local school districts ban the practice.

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. Tennessee is one of those states.

Below is a summary of Tennessee law on the use of corporal punishment and other kinds of physical force in public schools. (Because states can change their laws at any time, it’s always a good idea to check the current statutes by using this search tool.)

Teacher and Principals Can Apply Corporal Punishment

Tennessee specifically allows corporal punishment for the purpose of maintaining discipline and order in its public schools. The state doesn’t place restrictions the practice, except that

  • it must be “reasonable,” and
  • only teachers and principals can use this form of punishment.

(Tenn. Code § 49-6-4103.)

What Exactly Is Corporal Punishment?

Tennessee 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.

Other Use of Physical Force

All school employees or school bus drivers may use reasonable force when it’s needed in the following circumstances:

  • to correct or restrain a student, or
  • to prevent physical injury.

(Tenn. Code § 49-6-4107.)

Local Rules Might Be Different

Local school districts may adopt their own rules to control the use of corporal punishment in their schools (Tenn. Code § 49-6-4104). Several districts have banned the practice, including the metropolitan Nashville public schools. But spanking and paddling is still common in some other areas of the state.

Legal Protections for Teachers

Tennessee protects teachers and principals from being arrested for disciplinary actions just because of a citizen complaint. Before a warrant is issued, the judge must receive the report from a police investigation, as well as confirmation from an independent medical reviewer that the student suffered a physical injury. (Tenn. Code § 49-6-4105(a).)

No Corporal Punishment in Charter Schools

Usually, laws governing public schools also apply to charter schools. But according to the Tennessee State Board of Education policies, corporal punishment may not be used in authorized charter schools in the state.

What About Private Schools?

The state disciplinary laws don’t mention private schools, so they’re free to adopt their own policies on the use of corporal punishment.

Talking to Your Lawyer

If your child was injured by a teacher or other school employee in the course of discipline, consider talking to a lawyer about your legal options. Attorneys experienced in a field like personal injury or education law should be able to explain the local rules that apply to your school, as well as the legal reasons (or “grounds”) you might have for a civil lawsuit against the responsible employee and/or the school, including:

And if you believe school officials used improper discipline because of behavior related to your child’s disabilities, an attorney experienced in civil rights or disability law can explain the federal and state laws that apply to your situation, including the possibility of suing the school district for violating these laws.
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