‘Proactive’ measure or ‘government overreach’? Lawmakers weigh ban on corporal punishment in private schools; most already prohibit it

Legislation recently approved by the Illinois House of Representatives would ban the use of corporal punishment in private schools, if it becomes law.
Daily Herald file

Legislation recently approved by the Illinois House of Representatives prohibiting the use of corporal punishment in private schools would have little effect in the suburbs since the majority of private schools here already prohibit it, officials from multiple schools confirmed.

If approved by the Senate and signed by the governor, the ban against physically punishing children would match one already in place for the past 30 years at public schools in Illinois.

“We have refrained for quite a few years,” said Calvin Lindstrom, pastor at Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights. “We do not use any physical punishment because we did not want our teachers to be liable.”

Lindstrom said the last time corporal punishment was used on a student, a parent complained to police. It’s been disallowed for at least 15 years, he added.

State Rep. Margaret Croke, a Chicago Democrat, drafted the legislation after seeing an uptick of public schools in neighboring states such as Missouri reinstituting the practice.

“I haven’t found recent instances here, but I don’t feel bad about being proactive,” Croke said. “We saw recently New York decided to take similar action.”

Croke cited the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recent appeal for a national ban on the practice. Currently, corporal punishment is allowed in public schools in 18 states, mostly in the South. Most states don’t ban the practice in private schools, according to the report.

Research shows minorities and students with disabilities are more likely to receive corporal punishment than other students.

“It’s not effective and it’s often used more so with certain groups of students over others,” said Dr. Mandy Allison, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado and the lead author of the academy’s statement. “Our best available evidence suggests it is not a good way to create the behavior we want in school.”

Positive reinforcements, access to therapy and mentoring programs should replace corporal punishment, she added.

The recent 79-26 vote in favor of the legislation in the Illinois House was largely along party lines. State Rep. Amy Grant, a Wheaton Republican, said the bill was an example of “government overreach.”

“I am against corporal punishment, but my reasoning for not voting yes on this bill is because it’s an overreach of government telling private schools what they need to do,” she said. “I don’t think a parent would pay a school if they knew children were being beaten in the school.”

But Croke counters that oftentimes abuse allegations at schools come out many years after the fact.

“Again, we’re talking about physically harming students,” Croke said. “I think we can take a position as a state that this is not something we endorse or that should be happening regardless of what institution you’re receiving your education at.”

Private school officials reiterate that corporal punishment is not practiced in the vast majority of educational settings in the suburbs.

Steve Bult, head of school at Wheaton Academy in West Chicago, doesn’t believe corporal punishment ever has been allowed in the school’s more than 150-year history.

The administrative handbook for educators, administrators and other school employees at the Chicago Archdiocese — which oversees more than 150 elementary schools and three high schools in Cook and Lake counties — reads, “No student shall be disciplined corporally or corrected with abusive or demeaning language.”

The Joliet Diocese, which operates 38 elementary schools and three high schools in several counties including DuPage and Will, also prohibits the use of corporal punishment, according to multiple student handbooks.

“Discipline shall be developed in a positive manner, never through the use of force, ridicule or sarcasm,” reads the parent-student handbook at Visitation Catholic School in Elmhurst. Corporal punishment is specifically identified as a punitive measure “not permitted by Diocesan policy.”

School officials at Westlake Christian Academy in Grayslake said the practice already is prohibited there as well.

Disciplinary procedures for disruptive and misbehaving students at Harvest Christian Academy in Elgin do not mention corporal punishment either, according to a recent parent-student handbook. Detention, work programs, suspension and expulsion are listed as potential consequences.

Despite the potential corporal punishment law having little effect on most suburban private schools, officials at those schools are leery about the legislature dictating policy there.

“If there’s a contract between the parents and the school, and if they’re in agreement with how things are handled, I don’t think the state should interfere in a private transaction,” Lindstrom said.

While it has cleared the House, the measure still needs to be approved by the state Senate and signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker before it becomes law.

State Rep. Margaret Croke, a Chicago Democrat

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