ALBANY, N.Y. – Formal complaints of corporal punishment in New York (search) classrooms more than doubled over the past five years, with 4,223 accusations reported in 2004, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.
At the same time, fewer school districts were filing the required semiannual reports detailing corporal punishment allegations, the records show.
Many of the allegations involved faculty or staff pushing, slapping and grabbing students' arms. Among those verified were an incident in which a teacher put a misbehaving student outside to cool off in December without a jacket, a teacher who tackled a student who reached for a pencil on the floor, and several cases of students' mouths taped shut.
The state Education Department (search) reviewed the records after they were requested by the AP and said it would recommend revising the reporting policy.
The Education Department's analysis of just last year's reported cases found as many as 65 percent of the allegations couldn't be verified by the school, or the district provided insufficient information to support the allegation. The data showed 54 percent of the incidents were physical, 17 percent were verbal, 8 percent were both, and 21 percent were categorized as "other."
School districts' action against the offending teachers, substitute teachers, bus drivers, teacher aides, lunch monitors and other employees varied widely. Most received counseling or a memo in their personnel files. A few were fired.
The teacher who put the student out in 32-degree weather for eight to 10 minutes faced a "counseling session ... about appropriate expectations with action plan," according to the records. The tackling teacher was suspended for six months with pay and had to complete online classes in classroom management. Teachers who taped students' mouths shut received counseling memos for their personnel files and one was suspended.
David Ernst of the state Schools Boards Association (search) said the lack of uniform reporting makes it impossible to draw conclusions about trends in corporal punishment.
Fewer school districts may be filing the required semiannual reports because of superintendent turnover or because they include their corporal punishment incidents in mandated reports on child abuse instead, he said.
Ernst said officials believe corporal punishment in schools is actually becoming less common.
New York's schools, with about 3 million students, have had to report incidents of corporal punishment since 1985. Corporal punishment has been prohibited there for over two decades.
Deputy Education Commissioner James Kadamus said he believes the most serious cases — those that could be considered child abuse under state law — are being reported.
"We are trying to emphasize a safe learning environment and that goes for both the kids' behavior and the adult behavior," he said.