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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Kentucky Board of Education approved a regulation Wednesday setting new safeguards on using corporal punishment in public schools.

Four Kentucky school districts – Bell County, Hazard Independent, Perry County and Raceland-Worthington Independent – have policies allowing corporal punishment on students. Eleven more – Allen County, Butler County, Caverna Independent, Elliott County, Grayson County, Henderson County, Hopkins County, Lewis County, Lincoln County, Nelson County and Todd County – do not specifically address the practice in their policies.

Previous attempts to ban the practice, which Education Commissioner Jason Glass called "barbaric" and "trauma-inducing" during Wednesday's board meeting, have failed in the Kentucky General Assembly. Because corporal punishment in schools is codified in state law, the Kentucky Board of Education cannot outright ban the practice by administrative regulation.

Matthew Courtney, policy advisor for the Kentucky Department of Education's Office of Continuous Improvement and Support, cited "a pretty unified, strong chorus" of groups like the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Pediatrics and National Education Association that have sought to ban or restrict the use of corporal punishment in schools during his presentation to the board.

"This should not be seen in any way as an endorsement of corporal punishment by the department or the board," Courtney said. "This is the next step in what has been a 30-year mission to end corporal punishment in Kentucky, and we will continue to vigorously advocate for its full prohibition."

"I'm embarrassed that it's anywhere in the state of Kentucky," Glass said of corporal punishment in public schools, "and I'm proud that we bring forward the regulation that will limit its practice."

Under the new regulation passed by the board on a unanimous vote Wednesday, districts will be prohibited from using corporal punishment against students with disabilities and those who are homeless or in foster care.

"These are groups of students we believe are at higher risk for trauma to begin with," Courtney said.

Kentucky school districts must get written consent from students’ parents or guardians before using corporal punishment as a behavior intervention and contact guardians for verbal permission before administering such punishments, according to the regulation.

The regulation calls for corporal punishment to be used as a last resort and directs districts to try to address problematic behavior from students through non-physical means and follow corporal punishment with at least 30 minutes of counseling from the school’s counselor, social worker, psychologist or other qualified mental health professional by the end of the next school day.

Only principals and assistant principals can administer corporal punishment under the new regulation, which also calls for at least one staff member of the student’s gender to be present as such discipline is administered.

School districts throughout the state must also codify whether corporal punishment is allowed and detail the circumstances of when such discipline is administered and what tools are used in that process in their policies. The new regulation also calls for districts to record uses of corporal punishment in the state’s student information system, including any other behavior interventions attempted and the time and date of students’ counseling appointments following the use of corporal discipline in schools.

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said he and others are "hopeful" that the new regulation will promote safer and more nurturing learning environments in state public schools.

The regulation, he said, "is an important step in building more trauma-informed learning environments and protecting Kentucky’s public school students from physical punishment."

"While incidences of corporal punishment, which is the deliberate infliction of physical pain as punishment for student misbehavior (i.e. paddling), have been declining in recent years, for children in schools that use corporal punishment, the classroom can become an environment that instills fear, anxiety, and distrust," Brooks said in a statement.

"It reinforces using physical aggression as a way to address unwanted behavior and creates a threatening atmosphere that permeates school culture, which can lead to immediate and long-lasting impacts on the child’s physical and mental health, behavior, and educational outcomes."

Uses of corporal punishment in schools have dropped in recent years. Physical discipline was used on students 432 times in the 2017-18 school year and dropped by more than half to 215 instances of such punishment in 2018-19, according to data presented to the state education board.

That number declined again by more than half to 96 corporal punishments administered during the 2019-20 school year, the closing months of which were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Data presented Wednesday show a more significant drop in the 2020-21 school year, when corporal punishments were handed down seven times. As of Nov. 12, students have received such punishments 13 times this school year, state data show.

Lu Young, chairperson of the Kentucky Board of Education, said all public comments she received about the new regulation supported it.

"We do know that there is an effort afoot to engage the General Assembly in a conversation about revising statutes in such a way to ban corporal punishment entirely in the state of Kentucky," she said before the board's unanimous vote.

No bills prohibiting the use of corporal punishment in Kentucky public schools have been pre-filed ahead of the 2022 legislative session.

The regulation now goes to the Legislative Research Commission for review and may be in place during the 2022-23 school year.

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