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posted on 4/26/19

Long gone are the days of paddling in schools, but some levels of corporal punishment are still acceptable under both Illinois and federal law. The issue of corporal punishment in schools is quite complex, raising multiple constitutional questions. It is even more complicated given the fact that there are different standards that apply according to U.S. constitutional precedent and state statutory law. An Illinois school law attorney can provide specific information, but some answers to frequently asked questions may be helpful.

What does US law say about corporal punishment? At the federal level, the key case on corporal punishment is Ingraham v. Wright, decided by the US Supreme Court in 1977. The case originated in Florida, where two high school students sued school officials and the Dade County School District after being paddled for a disciplinary matter. It reached SCOTUS through the appellate process, and the Justices made two critical findings on corporal punishment:

The Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution does not forbid corporal punishment by teachers and administrators, as common law allows officials to impose reasonable, non-excessive force.
The corporal punishment policy administered by the Dade County School System did not violate due process. The policy required school officials to exercise restraint, which satisfies procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.

How does Illinois law differ from the SCOTUS decision? In Illinois, corporal punishment is covered by statute instead of case law. While the Federal Courts allow corporal punishment if a state legislature allows it, in Illinois, The School Code bans corporal punishment of student, but provides that school officials and employees are required to maintain discipline, and may use force as necessary for:

  • The safety of other students;
  • The safety of school personnel;
  • For self-defense; or,
  • The defense of property.

What level of force can a teacher use? School officials and personnel may only use reasonable force as necessary to maintain discipline and achieve the goal of safety. A teacher can also use force to remove a student from the classroom for disruptive conduct. However, in no event can a school implement policies that allow slapping, paddling, or other intentional physical harm.

How is corporal punishment judged as reasonable? The reasonableness standard in the context of corporal punishment means the level of force another person would use, given the same set of circumstances and being in the same position as the teacher in question. If a reasonable person would have used the same amount of force or less, the instance of corporal punishment would be acceptable under Federal, but not Illinois Law.

It would not be permissible if the teacher went above what was necessary to maintain discipline or remove a student from the classroom. Ultimately, the matter of what is reasonable under the circumstances is a question for the finder of fact – either the judge or jury.

An Experienced Illinois Attorney can Answer Additional Questions

If you have other questions about corporal punishment in schools, please contact Glasgow & Olsson to set up a consultation. You can reach our Schaumburg, IL office by phone or by filling out an online form for an appointment request. Our lawyers represent clients throughout Cook, Lake, DuPage, McHenry, and Kane Counties, and we are available to tell you more about your legal options.

(image courtesy of Jon Tyson)