House bill prohibiting corporal punishment for disabled student passes with fewer exemptions

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Mar. 21—A bill that would ban corporal punishment for school-aged students with disabilities was reconsidered in the House on Monday.

A revamped House Bill 1028 passed 84-8 but is closer to existing state law than the previous version of the bill and would affect fewer students than originally intended.

Rep. John Talley, R-Stillwater, authored HB1028 after he learned that the Oklahoma State Department of Education found 455 instances in 63 districts in the 2021-2022 school year where students with cognitive disabilities still received corporal punishment, despite an administrative rule that prohibits corporal punishment for students with an Individual Education Program.

"Basically, I am trying to make it illegal for kids that are on IEPs to get a spanking in a school," Talley said. "There's hardly any big schools in Oklahoma that do it anyway, but there are some rural schools (that do)."

The House failed to pass the bill last week, as heated discussions resulted in a 45-43 vote.

The bill's title was stricken, which means it will come back to the House for another vote if it clears the Senate.

As chairman of the Children, Youth and Family Services Committee, Talley said he received numerous phone calls and emails regarding the issue, including a U.S. Marshal whose autistic daughter received three spankings within an hour because she didn't do her math correctly.

"I was told yesterday of a story about a young girl that was in a wheelchair and sometimes she would have epileptic fits and fall out of the wheelchair," Talley said. "The teacher thought that she was pretending and had the girl get out of the wheelchair, get on her knees and (get) a spanking."

Some legislators say the bill's victory yesterday is not a true representation of what actually passed the House.

Talley's bill as introduced to the House floor on March 14, struck through existing law that stated students exempt from corporal punishment are those identified with "the most significant cognitive disabilities according to criteria established by the State Department of Education unless addressed in an annual individualized education program."

His bill sought to exclude children with any disability in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Act. That would have included: Autism, deaf-blindness, deafness, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment (includes ADHD), specific learning disability (includes dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and other learning differences), speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury and visual impairment, including blindness.

The law that was pushed Tuesday through the House restored that original text. It did, however, maintain a strikethrough of text that would allow a parent or legal guardian to sign a waiver that would consent to corporal punishment.

The new law means parents could not consent to corporal punishment for students with severe cognitive disabilities.

Sen. Andy Fugate, D-Oklahoma City, said the bill's only change of removing the parental consent waiver did little to affect current law.

"The amendment got rid of all the changes as far as IDEA," Fugate said. "It basically set things back to the way they are today where only one of those categories is covered. In reality, the law that we passed is the law that exists today with the exception of that change to help parents."

Fugate said there seemed to be a strong push to try to reverse the national opinion that Oklahomans allow the spanking of disabled kids.

"This castrated version of the bill was put back out so members could vote in favor of it and say 'Hey, we're protecting these kids'," Fugate said. "Well, no, you haven't done anything that's not already in law today, and there's all these classes of kids that are not covered by this bill even though they're disabled kids."

Fugate said for those who believe in corporal punishment, that they absolutely have the ability to do that at home.

"The law says that special needs kids can attend school to age 21," Fugate said. "Why would you allow somebody to do something to an adult that would constitute assault and battery if it happened outside the classroom?"

Talley said he got a good idea of how school discipline works when his wife was a special education teacher for 20 years and then became principal at an alternative high school in Stillwater for 20 years. She also served as the director for all special needs students in Stillwater.

"So I have a first-hand, look at it behind the scenes," Talley said. "I just don't think we should be hitting kids — any kids."

Talley said as a child he was corrected often because he struggled with ADHD.

"One time, I got licked with a paddle and I got five licks," Talley said. "That teacher tried to hit me as hard as they could."

Talley said part of the problem in Oklahoma is that schools don't have rules for how to use corporal punishment.

"How many licks are correct? What kind of board (do you) use?" Talley said. "And has the teacher been trained how to use it?"

Talley said the atmosphere was very tense when the bill was introduced last week, and many representatives thought he was attempting to take parental rights away from parents to have a teacher spank their child.

"I didn't look at it that way," Talley said. "I think teachers and schools don't want that responsibility of spanking students. To me, it'd be very easy to call that parent and say 'your student keeps acting up. Come up here, and help us', but the members here are saying that (they) want the school to do it, and I just think that's sad."

Talley said he just wanted to "add more teeth to SDE's prohibition and end corporal punishment on students who may not understand what is going on or why it is happening."

"After numerous discussions with my colleagues, educators and families of disabled students, I'm glad we were able to work together to pass a bill that protects our most vulnerable children," Talley said.