CASSVILLE, Mo. – KOLR 10 Investigates is following up on a story out of Cassville that made national headlines last year when the superintendent brought corporal punishment back to the school district.

Corporal punishment, also commonly referred to as paddling, spanking, or swatting, is legal under Missouri law. It’s up to each district to decide if physical discipline has a place in the classroom.

Cassville paddled students 7 times after reinstating the policy

KOLR 10 Investigates started a quest to find out if corporal punishment is permitted in other school handbooks in Southern Missouri and if so, how often it’s practiced. We started in Cassville where Travis Ulmer was on the field running flag football drills.

“When they can’t get their point across with words they can get it across with actions,” said Ulmer. His kids are in kindergarten and first grade in Cassville.

Ulmer was one of 632 parents, or one-third of the student population, who signed paperwork allowing school leaders to spank their students if all else failed. According to Cassville Schools, all else failed seven times during the 2022-2023 school year.

KOLR 10 Investigates asked the Cassville School District what offenses preceded the corporal punishment and what other forms of discipline failed first. Administrators denied releasing those records for the risk of identifying students.

Below is the reasoning Cassville School District Communication Coordinator Mindi Artherton gave for denying the records.

Cassville parents react to the district’s use of corporal punishment

“It’s not like they’re beating ’em, it’s corporal punishment. They’re getting swats. I’ve been there; I’ve been through it,” said Ulmer.

Kirstie Crain’s daughters are enrolled in the Cassville School District. She didn’t sign the corporal punishment permission slip originally during the 2022-2023 school year, but changed her mind for 2023-2024.

“Last year I didn’t sign it but I feel like if someone needs to whoop my kid it needs to be me. They’re pretty well-behaved so I thought the chances of them going to the principal’s office and needing a whoopin’ were pretty slim to none. At home they do get it when they need it. But this year I just went ahead and signed it because I feel like if they need it, they need it.”

Cassville School District parent Kirstie Crain

Corporal Punishment is permitted in dozens of other Southern Missouri school districts too

Hours east of Cassville, a school district in West Plains, Howell Valley Schools, used corporal punishment the most out of all the school districts, averaging nearly once a week, with 30 instances of spanking last school year. At nearby Junction Hill Schools, the superintendent told KOLR 10 Investigates that students were spanked 9 times during the 2022-2023 school year. In Pulaski County, the Dixon School District reported 8 instances of paddling last year.

KOLR 10 Investigates also learned there are a number of districts that permit corporal punishment, but don’t often practice it.

  • Howell Valley School District – 30
  • Green Forest – 10
  • Junction Hill School District – 9
  • Southwest – 9
  • Dixon School District – 8
  • Cassville School District – 7
  • Dent-Phelps – 3
  • Alton – 1
  • Carthage – 0
  • Cole Camp – 0
  • Eminence – 0
  • Fair Play – 0
  • Glenwood – 0
  • Halfway – 0
  • Lincoln – 0
  • Marion C. – 0
  • Fair Grove – not permitted
  • Wheaton – not permitted
  • Crane – not permitted
  • Osceola – not permitted
  • Willard – not permitted
  • Strafford – not permitted
  • Pleasant Hope – strictly prohibited
  • Republic – strictly prohibited
  • Stockton – strictly prohibited
  • Climax Springs – strictly prohibited

Student handbooks or school policies show corporal punishment is also permitted in the following school districts, but KOLR 10 Investigates has not received a response detailing how often it was used last school year.

  • Appleton City
  • Swedeborg
  • Bunker
  • Summersville
  • Purdy
  • Exeter

If student handbooks and school policies made no mention of corporal punishment, KOLR 10 Investigates assumed paddling is not permitted in those districts and did not request corporal punishment statistics from those school administrations.

Psychologist warns of lasting affects of corporal punishment

A licensed psychologist in Springfield says long-term behavioral change is unlikely to result from physical discipline.

“Some of the research that’s out there shows the more often corporal punishment is used, the more behavioral, emotional problems children will have,” said Gabriel Cline.

A handful of other schools in the area make mention of corporal punishment in their student handbooks as well. Pleasant Hope, Republic, Stockton, and several others specify corporal punishment is strictly prohibited.

“Is it traumatic? Yeah I have patients that talk about being hit as a real problem for them,” said Cline. “Whether or not that was abuse or just corporal punishment is really up to both the punisher and the punished to decide what happened. There’s a thin line between corporal punishment and abuse.”

Cline suggests a more effective discipline method is finding what triggered the child to begin with and then finding ways to avoid the trigger. He said his office is also finding success using play therapy to help young kids dealing with behavioral issues.

In addition to Missouri, 18 other states mostly in the southern United States, also permit paddling in public schools.