Graham kicks paddling call back to county

By: T.C. Hunter - Managing editor

LUMBERTON — A local member of the state House of Representatives has elected to let Public Schools of Robeson County leaders come up with a way to address whether or not corporal punishment will be allowed in local schools.

Rep. Charles Graham, whose District 47 covers most of Robeson County, said Tuesday he will not be introducing legislation to end corporal punishment during the General Assembly’s short session. The Democrat from Lumberton has said in the past he is not in favor of its use.

Graham was approached by a local group trying to stop the use of corporal punishment after the Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County balked at taking a vote, and punted it to a Policy Committee. That committee is in the process of updating policies for throughout the system.

Graham said he spoke recently with schools Superintendent Shanita Wooten about corporal punishment.

“After my discussion with her, I feel this is a local issue,” Graham said. “ … My decision is to allow the administrators to do their work and to allow the board members to do their work in the communities and with their constituents.”

The General Assembly’s short session begins May 16 and is expected to end in late June or early July. The session could be adjourned earlier so lawmakers up for re-election can return to their districts to campaign. Graham, a Democrat, is unopposed in the May primary. He will face the winner of the Republican primary, either Jarrod Lowery or Tom Norton, on Nov. 6.

Wooten said she and Graham spoke briefly April 25 at Orrum Middle School’s career day.

“I believe we must find the appropriate community supports and discipline practices for our students,” Wooten said Tuesday. “We must keep them in school and identify those who are repeatedly being disciplined. There has to be a shift in our thinking so we can reduce the disproportionate suspensions and Exceptional Children referrals in the county. Instead of punitive measures we need to implement programs that teach and reinforce positive behaviors. If the traditional classroom setting is not working we can incorporate alternative strategies in behavioral plans.”

The idea of getting the state General Assembly to ban corporal punishment ban was raised after the school board voted 9-1 on April 10 to send the issue to the board’s Policy Committee. Loistine DeFreece, a longtime Robeson County educator, cast the dissenting vote.

Members of Advocates for a Better Education had entered that night believing they had the votes to ban corporal punishment. After the meeting Jessica Lowry Clark, a member of the group, said she was disappointed by the board members’ action, but not defeated.

“We’re not finished,” said Clark, who said the group would take their campaign to Raleigh.

Robeson and Graham are the only two North Carolina counties that allow corporal punishment. Most of Robeson’s 42 schools don’t use corporal punishment, and it can administered only with the advance permission of a parent or guardian. It’s use is generally determined by the school principal.

Because Robeson uses it more than Graham, and it is used locally more in American Indian districts, most children paddled annually in North Carolina schools are American Indian.

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T.C. Hunter

Managing editor

Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at tchunter@robesonian.com.

Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at tchunter@robesonian.com.