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A Sheridan County school principal is seeking to end corporal punishment in Wyoming’s public schools

Tongue River Middle School principal Jeff Jones
Sheridan Media

A Sheridan County middle school principal is advocating to have corporal punishment outlawed in the state’s public schools. This comes after his doctoral dissertation’s research found that the practice is significantly harmful to students. Corporal punishment includes spanking and paddling as a correctional behavior.

“I stumbled across corporal punishment as I was preparing for [a U.S. history] lesson,” said Jeff Jones, principal of Tongue River Middle School in Ranchester. “At that time, I'd been in education [for] 25 years, and was still shocked to realize that 19 states still protected it legally in their public schools.”

corporal punishment map
procon.org

His advocacy efforts aren’t new and go back about five years when he encountered the practice being mentioned in a text for an upcoming lesson. Jones’s interest in the topic led him to change the focus of his doctoral dissertation he was working on at the time, which was initially centered on an unrelated topic.

Additional research led him to read through the policies of all 48 districts in the state. He found that 20 didn’t list corporal punishment at all in their board policies. A few specifically stated that it wasn’t an allowable method of discipline in their districts. But he also found out that there were still several districts at the time that still officially listed corporal punishment as part of their district’s policies.

Jones’s outreach efforts to the remaining nine districts that still had corporal punishment led to some surprises as well.

“The vast majority of them, their response to me was, ‘We had no idea it was still in policy,’” he said. “So, to my knowledge, as of today, there's only two school districts in Wyoming that still have it in their policy.”

As of Sept. 8, when Jones last checked, Niobrara County School District #1 (which serves Lusk and all of Niobrara County) was the remaining district that hadn’t yet removed it from their district policies. Some of the corporal punishment policies he found that were still on the books dated back decades, in some cases to the 1970s and 80s, he added.

During his research, there was one policy in particular that stuck Jones as concerning. “One of the policies that was probably the most alarming to me spoke to allowing substitute teachers to use corporal punishment to get students to behave in the classroom as necessary,” he said. “Corporal punishment was defined as paddling and hitting, so I don't know about you, but it's hard enough for me to wrap my head around a school principal doing that nowadays, let alone a substitute teacher in the classroom [doing it].”

Sheridan County District 1’s policy was quickly revised to remove corporal punishment from their district’s list of approved disciplinary options, which occurred about a month after Jones was hired at principal at the middle school.

The last time the corporal punishment went before the legislature was in 2003. In the years afterward, it didn’t make it out of the education committee and then failed to make it to the floor another year. He would like to get in contact with legislators after the general election to make headway before the general session convenes in early 2023.

“I feel like it is such an apathetic thing. I think there's so many people that just don't even…it's not even on their radar, because they don't see it. It's not a part of their world. And thankfully, I'm glad of that. But there's a really good reason why it shouldn't be legally protected, either.”

Jones adds the voices and influence of parents, especially during the pandemic, as well as developments in society, have come to a place where what was once deemed acceptable is no longer so.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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