skip to main content

H.R. 8460 (116th): Protecting our Students in Schools Act of 2020


Is it past time to end this practice nationwide?

Context

Corporal punishment, or physical discipline including hitting and spanking, is banned in schools by at least 128 countries. The U.S. is not one of them.

As of 2018, 19 U.S. states allowed the practice in public schools. The states were primarily red states in the south and midwest, although they also included such states as Arizona and Colorado.

What the bill does

The Protecting Our Students in Schools Act would ban corporal punishment nationwide in all public schools. The legislative text mentions several specific examples such as striking, spanking, paddling, chemical sprays, electroshock weapons, and stun guns.

The practice would still be allowed on a national level in private schools, which only two states currently ban on a state level: Iowa and New Jersey.

It was introduced in the House on September 30 as bill number H.R. 8460, by Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA4).

What supporters say

Supporters argue the practice of corporal punishment belongs to another century, with potentially damaging consequences to students on the receiving end.

“The federal government must eradicate corporal punishment in our schools once and for all,” Rep. McEachin said in a press release. “No evidence exists demonstrating that corporal punishment is an effective response to student behavior, and yet nearly 20 states permit the sanctioned use of physical violence against students in the classroom.”

“I introduced this critical legislation to ensure that all students in federally-funded schools have a safe, healthy, and high-quality learning environment free of this abhorrent policy,” Rep. McEachin continued. “Physical violence against our students, in any form, is a betrayal of our student’s trust, and together, we must pass this bill to protect our students.”

What opponents say

The current controlling Supreme Court case on the subject is 1977’s Ingraham v. Wright, in which the Court ruled 5–4 that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment didn’t extend to corporal punishment in schools, allowing localities and states to decide their own policies on the subject.

“A single principle has governed the use of corporal punishment since before the American Revolution: teachers may impose reasonable but not excessive force to discipline a child… The basic doctrine has not changed,” Justice Lewis Powell wrote for the majority. “To the extent that the force is excessive or unreasonable, the educator in virtually all States is subject to possible civil and criminal liability.”

While the 1977 decision has never been overturned and remains legal precedent, many legal scholars doubt the decision would be upheld if decided today. At the time, only two states — Massachusetts and New Jersey — banned corporal punishment in public schools, but today more than half the states do.

Odds of passage

The bill has attracted six cosponsors, all Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the House Education and Labor Committee. Passage in the Republican-controlled Senate ostensibly seems unlikely.

Despite the ostensibly partisan cosponsorship, one possible indication of support across the aisle is the number of red states which have banned the practice, including Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and West Virginia.

Last updated Dec 1, 2020. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Sep 30, 2020.


Protecting our Students in Schools Act of 2020

This bill prohibits the use of corporal punishment in schools that receive federal funding. It also establishes enforcement provisions, including a private right of action for a student who has been subjected to corporal punishment, and creates a grant program for state educational agencies to implement positive behavioral interventions and supports to address student behavior and reduce exclusionary and aversive discipline practices.