BATON ROUGE — A push to ban corporal punishment in Louisiana public schools made more progress Wednesday than it has in years: It won support from a House committee.
The narrow vote means it will get a debate from the full House.
Rep. Nancy Landry, Republican chair of the House Education Committee, made the tie-breaking decision to move the bill out of her committee. The 6-5 vote sends the proposal by Rep. Barbara Norton to the House floor for debate.
“You create more violent children when you paddle them, because this is what they know about, abuse,” said Norton, a Democrat from Shreveport.
Bill supporters said decisions about whether to spank children should be left to parents. But opponents of Norton’s proposal said schools that use corporal punishment allow parents to opt out on their children’s behalf.
Leaders of the Louisiana School Boards Association and the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools said they weren’t weighing in on corporal punishment, but suggested such decisions on whether to allow it should be left to local districts and schools.
Caroline Roemer, executive director of the charter school organization, said charter school leaders who responded to a survey were split on whether they support corporal punishment. But she added: “What they all have agreed is that the decision should be made as close to the classroom as possible.”
Thirty-one states ban corporal punishment in schools, supporters of Norton’s bill said. In Louisiana law, discretion to use the disciplinary method specifically rests with local school boards. Thirty-eight of the state’s 69 public school districts allow schools to use corporal punishment, according to Scott Richard, executive director of the school boards association.
“These are fundamental local issues that are best decided at the local level,” Richard said.
Committee members questioned what policies exist and why corporal punishment is carried out differently from school system to school system.
Rep. Joseph Bouie, a New Orleans Democrat, said it’s time for Louisiana to move in line with the majority of other states with a ban. He said studies don’t demonstrate that corporal punishment improves student behavior.
Getting the measure out of committee was a victory for Norton, who proposed the ban in prior years only to see it stall before the education panel.
Voting for the bill were Landry, Bouie and Reps. Jeff Hall, D-Alexandria; Stephanie Hilferty, R-Metairie; Ed Price, D-Gonzales; and Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge. Voting against the bill were Reps. Beryl Amedee, R-Gray; Julie Emerson, R-Carencro; Reid Falconer, R-Mandeville; Scott Simon, R-Abita Springs; and Polly Thomas, R-Metairie.
Committee members weren’t split on another proposal by Rep. Franklin Foil, a Baton Rouge Republican, to prohibit corporal punishment of students with disabilities. The education panel advanced the measure to the House floor without objection. Gov. John Bel Edwards is pushing that more limited ban.