'My Children's School Reinstated Spanking, They're Afraid to Go to Class'

When I opened the letter saying my children's school was bringing back corporal punishment, I couldn't believe it. I was so shocked and appalled. Paddling as a form of discipline had been abandoned by Missouri's Cassville School District in 2001, when I was just seven years old.

My first of three children was born in 2012. Becoming a mom for the first time was exciting, but nerve-wracking. My eldest son has asthma and allergies, so for the first couple of years it was really stressful going in and out of hospital, trying to figure out how to manage it.

Throughout his childhood, my eldest was really smart, but I quickly noticed that he struggled somewhat socially; he didn't have a huge awareness of non-verbal cues. When he spent time with other kids, he was always the odd one out. He was usually playing on his own and being very quiet.

Miranda Waltrip
Miranda Waltrip, 29, is an insurance agent and mother-of-three who lives in Cassville, Missouri Miranda Waltrip

After Kindergarten, my son was accepted into his school's gifted program, but he was quickly pulled out because he wasn't paying attention in class, which I found odd. I had always chalked up his unusual behaviors to being a quirky kid, but I decided to get him evaluated.

In 2017, when my son was five, I discovered that he has autism and ADHD. I had always felt deep down that maybe he had some kind of underlying condition. It was difficult; my son doesn't have any speech delays or anything like that, he just has a couple of quirks.

Once we had the diagnosis, it felt reaffirming to know this was actually something that was happening inside of his brain. His autism and ADHD were the reasons he did certain things, like not paying attention in class, or covering his ears when he hears something really loud. It felt really good to finally know that.

I understood that I would need to advocate for him more. For example, he could have been in a really good educational program, which would have given him much more self-esteem, but he wasn't able to because nobody was aware of his conditions. At the same time, as his mom I don't try to overly accommodate him, because I believe nobody where we live is going to do the same for him later on in life.

Around May last year, my children's school sent out a survey asking about what parents needed more help with. The results showed many wanted additional discipline. In August of this year, we heard the news that the school board had passed a policy allowing students to be punished with a paddle as a last resort, if their parents have given written permission.

It felt like it was thrown into our laps out of the blue. I bought my very first house in July, but as a mother to three children, aged ten, nine, and four, I would never have purchased a property within this school district had I known this decision would be made.

I think corporal punishment is horrible and should not be carried out in classrooms. It's treating aggression with aggression. Because of my son's own experiences, I fear that if there is a child who has undiagnosed mental health issues or cognitive impairment, which results in misbehavior, they could be physically disciplined as a result.

In my opinion, children from low-income homes are likely to suffer the most. There may be students who use school as an escape from violence or hunger. They might get to class and think: "Okay, I'm safe." But now, if they act out, because maybe they didn't get enough sleep or they're hungry, they could be met with a paddle in response. I believe it only fuels the fire of anger and resentment of those children towards authority figures.

As a parent, it doesn't feel like there's much I can do to change this policy, and while I won't allow my children to be punished in this way, it has already had an impact on them. It has made them more afraid to go to school.

I have told my children not to fear the staff at school and I try to let them know they should stand up to people, even in authority, if they believe something is wrong. However, they are scared for the other children in their class who may ultimately be punished in this way.

Boy at school
A school district in southwestern Missouri has brought back spanking as a form of discipline for students. Stock image. iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

My children behave well in society because it is the polite thing to do, not out of fear of physical discipline.I do not believe using fear tactics is the right way to get kids to change their actions. I worry the choice will lead to a large jump in depression and anxiety in several of these kids.

I do know parents at the school, who are in support of corporal punishment. Many people in Cassville have Christian views and growing up I constantly heard the phrase: "Spare the rod and spoil the child." I think a lot of locals grew up with a hands-on approach to discipline.

I worry this decision will cause divisions within the classroom; that children whose parents have opted in to the policy will lump together, believing their parents have made the right choice, and vice versa.

Given the wider political landscape in the U.S. at the moment, to me, this decision feels regressive. We already have the intruder drills which cause so much anxiety in my kids. I believe this is just one more thing to add to their worries at school and that punishing children in this way is only going to lead to more aggression.

Miranda Waltrip, 29, is an insurance agent and mother-of-three who lives with her children in Cassville, Missouri.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Monica Greep.