Education Law

Wisconsin Rules on Corporal Punishment in Schools

By E.A. Gjelten, Author and Editor
Wisconsin bars corporal punishment in its public schools, but teachers and other employees can use physical force when it’s needed in certain circumstances.

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 banning corporal punishment in schools are in the majority. Wisconsin is one of those states.

Below is a summary of Wisconsin’s rules on corporal punishment in schools. (Because states can change these laws any time, it’s always a good idea to check the current statute using this search tool.)

Prohibited in Public Schools

Wisconsin public school employees aren’t allowed to use corporal punishment on students. (Wisc. Stats. § 118.31(2).)

What Exactly Is Corporal Punishment?

State law defines corporal punishment as any disciplinary method that’s intended to cause physical pain, including:

  • paddling
  • slapping, or
  • holding a student in a painful position for a long time.

However, the definition specifically doesn’t include:

  • reasonable physical activities that are part of athletic training, or
  • actions that are authorized under an individualized education program for a child with disabilities.

(Wisc. Stats. § 118.31(1).)

When Is Force Against Students Allowed?

In certain circumstances, school employees may use “reasonable” force when it’s necessary in certain circumstances, including:

  • stopping a fight or other disturbance
  • preventing physical injury
  • taking a weapon or other dangerous object from a student
  • removing a disruptive student from school grounds or a school-sponsored activity, or
  • protecting property.

The law also allows “incidental, minor or reasonable physical contact” in order to maintain order. (Wisc. Stats. § 118.31(3).)

What About Private Schools?

Legislators have tried to extend Wisconsin’s ban on corporal punishment to private schools, but those measures haven’t become law so far. Until another attempt succeeds, private schools are free to adopt their own policies on the use of physical discipline.

Talking to Your Lawyer

Consider talking to a lawyer about your legal options if a principal, teacher, coach, or other school employee has hurt your child while meting out discipline or trying to control disruptive behavior. An attorney experienced in a field like personal injury or education law should be able to explain 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 that schools officials used improper discipline because of 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.

Other Questions for Your Lawyer

  • Is it corporal punishment if a coach forced my child to complete excessive and dangerous physical activities as a form of discipline?
  • What can I do if my child was injured when a private school teacher or principal applied corporal punishment?
  • Can I file a child abuse report if a teacher has hurt my child?
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