Education Law

Alabama Laws on Corporal Punishment in Schools

By E.A. Gjelten, Author and Editor
Alabama allows corporal punishment in its schools, and it’s one of the few states where the practice is still widespread.

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. Alabama is one of those states.

Below is a summary of Alabama 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 by using this search tool.)

Corporal Punishment Is Allowed

Alabama law gives public school teachers the authority to use corporal punishment on students, consistent with local disciplinary policies. (Ala. Code § 16-28A-1.)

The Only Exceptions Are Local

Alabama doesn’t provide any exceptions to teachers’ broad authority to impose corporal punishment. But it does require local public school districts to adopt policies on student discipline. (Ala. Code § 16-28A-3.)

Some local districts ban corporal punishment or set limits on how and when it should be. But according to the Society for Research in Child Development, the practice remains widespread in the Alabama, making the state an outlier in the national trend away from corporal punishment in schools.

What Exactly Is Corporal Punishment?

Alabama 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.

Protections for Disciplinarians

As long as teachers, principals, and other authorized personnel follow the relevant policies when they administer corporal punishment, Alabama protects them from criminal prosecution (including child abuse charges) or civil lawsuits for their actions. Not only that, but the state requires local districts to provide the employees with a lawyer and other legal support to defend themselves if they’re charged or sued. A separate law makes it clear that the protection from civil liability doesn’t apply if a teacher used excessive force or the punishment qualified as cruel or unusual. (Ala. Code §§ 16-28A-1, 16-28A-2, 16-28A-5, 16.1.24-1.)

What About Private Schools?

The state law on corporal punishment in schools doesn’t mention private schools, so they’re free to adopt their own policies on the use of physical discipline.

Talking to Your Lawyer

If your child was injured when a teacher or other school employee didn’t follow the rules on discipline or used excessive force, consider talking to a lawyer about your legal options. Attorneys experienced in a field like personal injury or education law should be able to clarify the rules that apply in your local school. They could also 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 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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