December 12, 2011 8:40:00 AM
JACKSON -- The use of corporal punishment appears to be declining at Mississippi public schools, according to a newspaper.
The Clarion-Ledger reports many Mississippi school districts reported less use of corporal punishment last year compared to previous years.
The newspaper reported that of Mississippi's 152 school districts, 100 reported use of corporal punishment to the state Department of Education and more than half of those districts reported decreases in the incidences of corporal punishment.
For example, in the Oktibbeha County School District there were 1,252 incidences of corporal punishment in the 2009-2010 school year. Last year, that number fell to 531.
A federal lawsuit was filed last year to seek a ban on paddling in Mississippi because of alleged gender and racial bias in its use.
The use of corporal punishment in Mississippi spurred a march and protest rally at the state Capitol in the spring.
Some districts saw sharp increases in their reported use of corporal punishment. In Quitman County, a district of 1,273 students, there were 1,594 reported cases of corporal punishment last year -- an increase of about 1,300 cases from the previous year.
The overall reported cases for the state has dropped over the years. Last year, the number of reported incidences in 110 districts fell to 41,228 from 46,968 in 2009-10 and 57,953 the year before.
Some school district officials have said they are trying to rely more on other forms of discipline.
Oktibbeha County schools Superintendent James Covington said the discipline focus in his district is shifting to rewarding good behavior. Corporal punishment is used as a last resort, he said.
Parents still have to consent to corporal punishment and the overwhelming majority in Oktibbeha County schools do, he said.
"And even with that, it can only be done by a certified person with a witness," Covington said. He said that's usually offered as an alternative to a suspension, which would help the district keep up its average daily attendance and its graduation rate.
Corporal punishment is still allowed in Hinds County schools, but the district is one of several that reported some use of corporal punishment in 2009-10 but none last year. The district has been focusing more on counseling and preventative measures, spokesman John Neal said.
Jackson Public Schools is being sued in federal court by a group of Murrah High School parents whose sons were whipped with a weight belt in basketball practice by their coach, Marlon Dorsey, despite a ban on corporal punishment in the district since 1991. The parents had filed simple assault charges against Dorsey, but those charges were dismissed.
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