Twelve of our elected officials soundly defeated Bill No. 33-0103, proposed by Senator Janelle Sarauw. Only two senators supported it. Bill No. 33-0103 was visionary, diverse in its scope and sought to address multiple health needs of our community. One of the Bill’s proposed items attempted to prohibit “the use of corporal punishment in public schools.” We were excited in thinking that at last we would be joining the rest of the civilized world in condemning an antiquated practice, another by-product and consequence of our colonial past, and the most brutal remnant from our history of slavery. Beatings.
Historians and anthropologists have found no evidence that ritualistic forms of physical discipline of children existed in pre-colonial West African communities before the Atlantic slave trade. West African societies regarded children as sacred and cherished human beings, not property in need of a good “whupping.” https://www.apa.og/pi/families/resources/newsletter/2017/04/racial-trauma
Why do the majority of our elected leaders want to continue this barbaric practice on who they frequently refer to as our “most precious resource”?
We are particularly concerned about the corporal punishment provision because such treatment is meted out disproportionally on children with disabilities who are oftentimes punished for behaviors that are a manifestation of the child’s disability. Students with disabilities are twice as likely as students without disabilities to be beaten in school with a wooden paddle. (http://endcorporalpunishment.org). Numerous studies have found that such treatment not only doesn’t achieve its intended effects, but it actually impairs the learning process, causes harm to children and arguably contributes to the cycle of criminal violence in our community.
In the United States, 31 states and the District of Columbia have banned corporal punishment. Nineteen states retain the practice. Eight states accounted for more than 90 percent of all the national incidents of corporal punishment. These eight states are in the south and southwestern parts of the country, an area that has a historical past rooted in segregation and structural racism. Numerous school districts in states that still permit corporal punishment have banned corporal punishment in their schools.
Despite the continued and heavy support banning corporal punishment in our schools from the V.I. Department of Education, the V.I. Board of Education and the University of the Virgin Islands, this is the third formal time that the V.I. Legislature has failed to pass legislation that would ban such practice. Our legislative leaders refer to so-called spiritual reasons for beatings to continue in our schools as a method of discipline. I submit that our policymakers should consider summoning the spirit of peace, patience, grace and goodwill by protecting children from the experience of violence at the hands of people they are supposed to trust. They deserve no less.
Editor’s note: Amelia Headley LaMont is the executive director of the Disability Rights Center of the Virgin Islands.
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