Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans said that a local Catholic school must permanently ban corporal punishment for student misbehavior, even though many parents and alumni support the practice.
“I do not believe the teachings of the Catholic Church, as we interpret them today in 2011, can possibly condone corporal punishment,” he explained to a Feb. 24 a town hall meeting at the Josephite-run St. Augustine High School in New Orleans. While parents have the authority to administer such punishment, he could not “possibly condone” the school doing so, the archdiocesan newspaper the Clarion Herald reports.
Since 1951 teachers and administrators at the historically black all-boys school have used an 18-inch-long wooden paddle, known as “the board of education,” to administer punishment to students for tardiness, sloppy dress or other minor infractions.
However, Archbishop Aymond and Josephite superior general Fr. Edward Chiffriller, who heads the school’s board of trustees, ordered an end to the practice.
A town hall meeting assembled to discuss the change attracted an audience which numbered over 600 and included current students from grades six to twelve, current and former parents, grandparents, benefactors and friends of the school.
The archbishop explained that he believes that “hitting a young man does not build character.”
“My image of Jesus is that he said, ‘Let the children come to me.’ I cannot imagine Jesus paddling anyone.”
Corporal punishment can cause unintended physical injury and studies indicate it can cause physical, emotional and psychological damage, including loss of self-esteem and increased hostility toward authority, the archbishop said.
Archbishop Aymond also reported that he had received a letter from an activist who wrote from Ireland, which is suffering an abuse scandal. The writer singled out the continued corporal punishment at St. Augustine.
St. Augustine High School principal Don Boucree told the Clarion Herald that discipline at the school has suffered since the school stopped paddling five months ago. It has had to resort to a “zero tolerance” policy for unacceptable behavior.
“What has happened is that the infractions that would have stopped by now have continued to rise, causing the severity of the penalties to increase,” Boucree commented.
A statement published at the school website reported that the community “overwhelmingly supports” the punishment. Attendees at the town hall expressed “outrage” that “persons from a different culture,” such as the activist from Ireland, were discussing St. Augustine’s policy and were “attempting to undermine” the school without significant input from those affected.
“Many expressed outrage that African American parents have to haggle with non-African Americans about how to raise their own sons,” the statement said.
The archbishop had appointed Dr. Monica Applewhite, an expert in safe environment training and child protection, to represent the archdiocese on the committee reviewing the school’s practices.
According to the archbishop, she indicated that the school’s corporal punishment was both excessive and unreasonable and the school did not have effective safeguards to prevent future abuse.
She also said that at least three students were taken to the hospital after being paddled. There were also instances of students being paddled day after day and more than five or six times a day.
Applewhite said that St. Augustine is the last Catholic school in the country to use the wooden paddle.
Supporters of corporal punishment had sought to submit a modified policy which would bar collective punishment and restrict the number of teachers or administrators with the authority to paddle students.
However, the board of trustees rejected the proposal.
Fr. Chiffriller said the decision would be revisited and discussed, while supporters of corporal punishment said that the discussion was not over.
Archbishop Aymond suggested prayer and dialogue as a way to determine God’s will and to resolve the issue.