A Missouri school district has announced that spanking will be reinstated this school year, but with a parental caveat.

Merlyn Johnson, superintendent of Cassville School District, said he did not take the job a year ago with the intention of reintroducing corporal punishment, a disciplinary measure that the 1,900-student Barry County district abandoned in 2001.

“But it happened on my watch, and I’m fine with it,” Johnson explained.

Cassville is a small town of about 4,000 people located about 60 miles southwest of Springfield, near the Arkansas border.

Parents were recently notified of a school board policy approved in June to allow spanking in school – but only as a last resort and with written permission from parents. Each family will be asked to opt in or out.

Johnson described Cassville as a “very traditional community in southwest Missouri,” and said parents had long expressed their displeasure that corporal punishment was not permitted in the district.

“Parents have asked why we can’t paddle my student, and we’ve said, ‘We can’t paddle your student, our policy does not support that,'” he said. “There had been discussions with parents, and parents had requested that we look into it.”

Johnson stated that Cassville families have reacted differently than those from other areas on social media.

“People have actually thanked us for it,” he said. “Those on social media would probably be shocked to hear us say these things, but the vast majority of people I’ve met have been supportive.”

“We respect every parent’s decision, whatever decision they make,” he added.

The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that school corporal punishment was constitutional, leaving the decision to allow it up to each state.

Missouri is one of 19 states, mostly in the South, that still allow corporal punishment. Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Oklahoma are among the neighboring states that permit it. Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Wyoming are among the others.

Cassville’s journey to corporal punishment began with an anonymous, third-party survey of school employees, parents, and students.

Student behavior and discipline issues were identified as a major concern by all three groups.

Johnson stated that he was surprised by the level of interest in what he called a “old-fashioned disciplinary measure.”

The district looked into that option, as well as two others, both of which were implemented: the establishment of a “Success Academy” for students who struggle in traditional settings and a ban on cellphones and other internet-ready devices at school.

The Cassville school board approved a policy in June that allows the use of corporal punishment “when all other alternative means of discipline have failed and then only in reasonable form and upon the principal’s recommendation.”

Johnson stated that it will only be administered by a principal in the presence of a witness and will never be administered in front of other students. “When it becomes necessary to use corporal punishment, it shall be administered so that there is no possibility of bodily injury or harm,” the policy states. It is not permitted to strike a student on the head or face.”

The only permitted corporal punishment is “swatting the buttocks with a paddle.”

When asked how many swings are permitted, Johnson said only one or two for younger students and up to three for older students.

The policy also requires the principal who approved the corporal punishment to notify the superintendent of the reason and details.

“No one is jumping up and down saying, ‘We want to do this because we like to paddle kids,'” says the author.

However, he claims that students react differently to discipline.

According to Johnson, the district uses a variety of disciplinary approaches, beginning with relationship-building and positive reinforcement for good behavior. Detention, as well as in- and out-of-school suspensions, are also options.

He stated that the district hopes the threat of corporal punishment will serve as a deterrent.

Johnson and his administrative team intend to examine the impact of corporal punishment, the Success Academy, and the cellphone ban on student discipline at the end of the 2022-23 school year.