Talley, Floyd Examine Ineffectiveness of Corporal Punishment on Students with Disabilities
A bipartisan interim study held Thursday before the Oklahoma House Common Education Committee examined the ineffectiveness and negative consequences of the use of corporal punishment on public school students with disabilities. The study was organized by Rep. John Talley, R-Stillwater, and Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City. "The use of corporal punishment against students who may not be able to control their actions or may not understand why they're being punished can lead to emotional distress and subject them to a hostile learning environment," Talley said. "Students with disabilities require additional support and resources, not physical punishment, in order to thrive socially and academically. I'm grateful for all the speakers who shared their experience and to my legislative colleagues who took the time to ask thoughtful questions, and I look forward to continuing to work on this issue." Dr. Andrea Kunkel, general counsel for Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration (CCOSA) and executive director for Oklahoma Directors of Special Services (ODSS), explained to the committee the different categories of disabilities under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Law. Kunkel told attendees the process for identifying a child as qualifying under the IDEA categories is in-depth. She emphasized that qualification is based on "I cannot" versus "I don't want to" when a child does not meet expectations. University of Central Oklahoma Professor Dr. Scott Singleton shared data on the long-term mental effects of using physical punishment, pointing out the importance of looking at a consensus of research rather than focusing on a single study. Singleton stressed the value in teaching children a skill, such as emotion regulation and behavioral expectations, so children know how to handle a similar situation in the future. He said that the overall consensus of research strongly supports that corporal punishment does not teach appropriate behavior. "If we look at the long-term, we find that corporal punishment is often ineffective at reducing the targeted behavior,” Singleton said, later adding, "When it comes to pain-based punishment, people do not necessarily stop the behavior, but they learn to avoid the stimulus that caused the behavior." Dr. Gary Duhon, a professor of psychology at Oklahoma State University, provided evidence-based alternatives for behavior reduction interventions for students with disabilities. He shared that alternative procedures are more effective than corporal punishment because they don't result in avoidance of the situation or punisher and don't lead to further aggression. Instead, these methods build appropriate skills that help students learn. Retired Woodward Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kyle Reynolds provided input from an administrator's perspective. He told the committee how they used alternative procedures to corporal punishment to address behavioral problems and the positive results of the policy change for the school environment and students. Jessica Gilliam, the mother of a student with disabilities, described the distress her son experienced after he was disciplined with corporal punishment by a principal at an Oklahoma public elementary school. "If you cannot stand for a child, then what can you stand for?" Gilliam asked legislators at the close of her comments. "I’m appreciative of the Oklahoma experts who presented clear data showing us what parents from across the state already know – that using corporal punishment on children with disabilities can cause long-term and lasting damage,” Floyd said. “If we are truly committed to helping every child reach their greatest potential, we need to utilize alternative methods for achieving appropriate behaviors that work both in the short-term as well as the long-term." Talley and Floyd authored House Bill 1028, which passed the House 84-8 in March. In its current form, the bill prohibits the use of corporal punishment only on students identified with the most significant cognitive disabilities, who account for less than 10% of students with disabilities in Oklahoma's public schools. HB1028 remains alive for consideration in the Senate next session, which begins February 6, 2024.