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Sen. Talley discusses challenges with corporal punishment bill

Stillwater NewsPress - 5/3/2024

Apr. 30—A bill that would ban corporal punishment for school-aged students with disabilities has been sent back to the House after amendments by the Senate.

Rep. John Talley, (R-Stillwater), and Sen. Dave Rader, (R-Tulsa), co-authored House Bill 1028, bringing it back to legislators this session after its defeat on the House floor in March 2023.

The current bill would prohibit "hitting, slapping, paddling, or any other means of inflicting physical pain on students" who have a disability under state and federal regulations that means they must be on an Individualized Education Program.

HB 1028 passed the Senate on a 31-11 vote on April 24.

"I love what we've done to (the bill)," Talley told the News Press.

Talley's bill, as introduced to the House floor in March 2023, struck through existing law that stated students exempt from corporal punishment are those identified with "the most significant cognitive disabilities according to criteria established by the State Department of Education unless addressed in an annual individualized education program."

His bill sought to exclude children with any disability in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Act.

That would have included: Autism, deaf-blindness, deafness, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment (includes ADHD), specific learning disability (includes dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and other learning differences), speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury and visual impairment, including blindness.

The law that was pushed through the House in March 2023 restored that original text. It did, however, maintain a strikethrough of text that would allow a parent or legal guardian to sign a waiver that would consent to corporal punishment.

The new law means parents could not consent to corporal punishment for students with severe cognitive disabilities.

Legislators, parents and educators were confused on what Talley's original intention was, and many news sources nationwide picked up the story.

Talley, who is chairman of the Children, Youth and Family Services Committee, took the blame for the confusion about the bill, saying he should have "helped people understand special needs."

Some legislators thought Talley and Rader were taking away parents' rights to spank their child, but Talley said it does not.

Another issue people had regarding the bill included the misconception over which students on an IEP could be included under the bill. Some parents thought they could simply tell the school district that their child had "special needs" and ask for an IEP, Talley said.

But educators have to observe students at least 50 hours and students must have 10-20 hours of testing before educators categorize a student as having a disability and giving them an IEP, Talley said.

Another area that caused confusion is that current law in Oklahoma says educators can "spank, punch or hit" a child in school.

"Part of my problem is to educate legislators that that's not a good idea, especially for special needs kids," Talley said.

Talley said his coauthor, Sen. Rader, was called a "communist" because he wanted kids "to be healthy mentally and emotionally."

Talley said parents have called him saying they don't want to spank their child, but would prefer that the school spank their child. At the same time, Talley said he received calls from educators who asked him to pass the bill, saying they were asked by parents to spank students.

"They said, 'Please pass this bill, because we don't want to be sued,'" Talley said.

Current law does not give parameters for corporal punishment in schools, Talley said, including how many licks can be administered, what size paddle to use, who performs the punishment and who witnesses the punishment.

Talley said he heard of one instance where a blind student couldn't find a chair and was punished with three licks in front of the class.

In another instance, an autistic student received punishment because he wouldn't look his teacher in the eye. The parent approved the spanking and came to the school to watch.

Three days later, the student still had bruises, and the parent sued the school. But because the parent had approved the disciplinary measure and had watched the punishment, the school won the lawsuit.

Talley said more than 460 school districts (out of more than 500 school districts) in Oklahoma have already discontinued corporal punishment.

Current law prohibits the use of corporal punishment, but only on students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.

In Oklahoma's public schools, that accounts for less than 10 percent of students with disabilities.

Talley wrote the bill after he learned that the Oklahoma State Department of Education found 455 instances in 63 districts in the 2021-2022 school year where students with cognitive disabilities still received corporal punishment, despite an administrative rule that prohibits corporal punishment for students with an IEP.

Talley said he plans to accept amendments from the Senate. If the House approves the amended law, he plans to send it to Gov. Kevin Stitt's desk.

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(c)2024 the Stillwater NewsPress (Stillwater, Okla.)

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