Education Law

Massachusetts Rules on Corporal Punishment in Schools

By E.A. Gjelten, Author and Editor
Public school teachers in Massachusetts aren’t allowed to punish students physically, but they can use force when it’s needed to prevent an assault.

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. Massachusetts is one of those states.

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

Prohibited in Public Schools

Teachers or any other employees of public schools in Massachusetts may not use corporal punishment on any students. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 71, § 37G(a).)

When Is Force Allowed?

School employees are allowed to use “reasonable force” when it’s necessary to protect anyone from assault by a student. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 71, § 37G(b).) They may also physically restrain students, but only under limited conditions:

  • in an emergency
  • as a last resort, after the student hasn’t responded to other interventions, and
  • when it’s needed to protect someone from assault or serious physical harm.

Regulations spell out the specific circumstances and methods for using “prone restraint” (when a student is held face down), and they prohibit the use of any equipment or devices to restrain children. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 71, § 37G(c), Mass. Regs. Code tit. 603, §§ 46.01-46.06.)

What Exactly Is Corporal Punishment?

Massachusetts law doesn’t give a definition of corporal punishment in the context of schools. International human rights law defines it as any punishment involving physical force that’s meant to cause some amount of pain or discomfort. At least one court in Massachusetts has found that the state’s corporal punishment statute doesn’t require proof that a teacher intended to hurt a student when using physical force. (School Dist. of Beverly v. Geller, 737 N.E.2d 873 (Mass. App. Ct. 2000).)

What About Private Schools?

Because the corporal punishment ban applies only to public schools in Massachusetts, 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.
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