By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Wyoming could soon outlaw corporal punishment in schools.
State law makes public school teachers, principals and superintendents immune from civil and criminal liability for using “reasonable corporal discipline” on students, if allowed by the school board’s policy.
The Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Education Committee on Tuesday voted to remove that immunity from the law. If the repeal passes the entire Legislature in the lawmaking session that begins in January, school staffers who physically discipline children could face criminal charges, such as battery, or civil lawsuits.
Jeff Jones, principal of Tongue River Middle School in Ranchester, reported to the committee that of Wyoming’s 48 school districts, only one still allows corporal punishment in its policy. When interviewed, however, the district superintendent didn’t know the policy still allowed for it, Jones said.
That district, Jones told Cowboy State Daily later, is Niobrara School District.
Jones cited his doctoral dissertation completed last year, in which he analyzed Wyoming public school perceptions of corporal punishment.
He said Wyoming schools have reported no incidents of corporal punishment to the office of civil rights since 2012. Of the school administrators he interviewed, 90% of them disagreed that the practice should be legal in the state’s schools.
“There’s no longer a place for corporal punishment in Wyoming public schools,” said Jones.
Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, asked whether the committee should craft some further penalty beyond repealing immunity for the practice.
Jones said he thought there should be.
Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, wondered if that would be superfluous.
“If we remove the immunity from civil and criminal liability, if you engage in that activity, wouldn’t that be technically assault?” he asked.
“I think the point is taken,” said Ellis, and she did not propose the amendment. She said she has had larger frustrations regarding school districts who do not follow the Legislature’s directives.
There were 13 committee members in favor of the repeal and one against.
House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, was the lone “no” vote against the repeal. He declined to comment to Cowboy State Daily.
Those in favor were Biteman, Ellis, Sens. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, and Tim Salazar, R-Riverton; committee Co-Chair Sen. Charlie Scott. From the House of Representatives side, Reps. Ocean Andrew, R-Laramie; Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne; Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie; Steve Harshman, R-Casper; Chip Neiman, R-Hulett; Sandy Newsome, R-Cody, Jerry Obermueller, R-Casper, and committee Co-Chair Rep. Jerry Paxton, R-Encampment also were in favor of the repeal.