Opinion: Corporal punishment in school threatens students’ safety

Emma Dram, Staff Writer

In June of this year, a Missouri school district reinstated corporal punishment — a form of disciplinary action meant to inflict physical pain. People were outraged that such a thing could be brought back in schools, an intended safe space for students from all backgrounds. 

As time passed by and more breaking news came to the public’s attention, it was soon forgotten by most people. And yet now, months later, it has not left my mind. I wanted to get a better understanding as to how this was allowed to happen, specifically through legal precedents and the groundbreaking U.S. Supreme Court case — Ingraham v. Wright (1976).

The case was brought to the Supreme Court after a group of students from a Florida junior high school filed for declaratory relief against school officials. Much of the case revolved around James Ingraham and Roosevelt Andrews, two students at Charles R. Drew Junior High School who were subject to physical punishment at the hands of administrators. Both boys had to receive medical attention, with Ingraham being taken to the hospital where he was treated for a hematoma, a severe bruise, that required him to rest at home for eleven days. Ingraham, Andrews and supporting students told the courts they had experienced a violation of their constitutional rights when administrators used this form of disciplinary action, but in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court decided that the Eighth Amendment does not concern the implementation of corporal punishment. Thus, in 1977, the state of Florida authorized its use in schools under the condition that administrators must first consult with the school principal.

As for the students, their complaint was dismissed.

To this day, students nationwide are affected by the result of Ingraham v. Wright. Between 2017 and 2018, more than 68,000 students were subject to corporal punishment in schools. 68,000 students who went to school thinking they’d be safe. These are only of the documented cases – how are we supposed to trust there aren’t more?

The decision of the 1977 Ingraham v. Wright Supreme Court case must be overturned. At its core, school should be an institution where students from all backgrounds can learn in a safe environment. The outcome of Ingraham v. Wright destroys that sentiment. Though surrounded by red, we live in a liberal state that generally protects its children – at least, better than the 19 states with legalized corporal punishment. But I am appalled at this law that risks the lives of thousands of students across the nation. We cannot allow corporal punishment in schools any longer.