WASHINGTON–U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, on Tuesday joined U.S. Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Lucy McBath (D-Ga.), Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), and Frederica Wilson (D-Texas) to announce reintroduction of legislation to prohibit the practice of corporal punishment in any school that receives federal funding. The Protecting Our Students in Schools Act would establish a series of important  protections for students and families and create a federal grant program for states and school districts to improve school climate and culture. Murphy will introduce the Senate companion legislation when the Senate is back in session next week. U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) co-sponsored the legislation.

Corporal punishment, the act of inflicting physical pain as a form of discipline, can result in serious injury with long-term negative consequences. Physical injuries have included abrasions, broken bones, bruising, hematomas, and other medical complications. Psychologically, corporal punishment can cause depression, anxiety, anti-social behavior, and make students more likely to have mental health problems as adults. Research overwhelmingly shows that corporal punishment in schools does not lead to improvements in student behavior; instead is linked to poor academic performance, physical and emotional harm, and damage to students' self-esteem and trust of educators. According to federal data from the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 70,000 public school students were subjected to corporal punishment in the 2017-18 school year. Corporal punishment remains legal in 23 states.

“Kids do their best learning in a safe, nurturing classroom. It’s astounding that educators in twenty-three states are still allowed to strike, paddle, and spank students as a means of disciplining them. It creates a culture of fear, teaches kids that violence is an acceptable response, causes serious trauma on top of physical injury, and disproportionately affects Black students and students with disabilities. We simply cannot continue to allow adults to use physical violence against children as a way to control and discipline them. This legislation would end the use of corporal punishment in our schools and help make classrooms a place where every child feels safe and supported,” said Murphy.

"Schools should be safe places for students to learn and grow without fear," said Bonamici. "It is alarming and unacceptable that corporal punishment is still allowed in nearly half of the states in our nation. Corporal punishment in schools is an unjustifiable, outdated, and draconian practice that leaves children with lasting physical and psychological damage and disproportionately harms Black students and students with disabilities. I'm grateful to lead the Protecting Our Students in Schools Act with Reps. McBath, Moore, Wilson and Sen. Murphy to finally end corporal punishment and promote healthy learning environments that value the physical, mental, and academic wellbeing of students.”

"When parents send their children to school, it's with the belief that their student will learn in a safe, healthy environment," said McBath. "The impacts that cruel, unnecessary punishments have on the next generation are heartbreaking and these practices still exist in Georgia today. I thank my colleagues in the House and Senate for their collaboration on this effort as we protect our children and set them up for strong, successful futures."

“Corporal punishment violates children's fundamental rights to dignity, physical integrity, and protection from violence,” said Moore. “Every child deserves to be treated with respect and provided with a safe and nurturing learning environment. By eliminating this form of punishment, schools can create a safer, more supportive atmosphere that encourages learning, engagement, and positive relationships between students and educators.”

“The hallways, classrooms and cafeterias of our schools should be safe, supportive environments for all students,” said Wilson. “Corporal punishment is a backward practice that has no place in our schools, harming our students, especially Black and Brown children. That's why I’m proudly co-leading the Protecting Our Students in Schools Act of 2023, which implements positive reinforcement strategies, creating a better environment for our students. With this bill, we can eliminate the shameful stain of corporal punishment and promote evidence-based behavioral interventions for more positive outcomes for our students.”

Corporal punishment is disproportionately applied to boys, students of color, and students with disabilities. Research demonstrates that Black students are 2.3 times more likely to be subjected to corporal punishment than white students. Additionally, students with disabilities are struck at higher rates than students without disabilities. Students served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) represent 13.2 percent of the student population but make up 16.5 percent of all students who are subjected to corporal punishment.

“We enthusiastically support the re-introduction of the Protecting Our Students in Schools Act by Senator Chris Murphy and Representative Suzanne Bonamici to federally prohibit corporal punishment in our nation’s public schools,” said Denise Forte, president and CEO of The Education Trust. “Data shows corporal punishment doesn’t improve student behavior or create a nurturing atmosphere conducive for a positive learning environment. On the contrary, corporal punishment, which disproportionately impacts students of color and students with disabilities, is a deeply harmful and ineffective practice that severely harms students’ physical and mental health. Hitting students is never justified, and federal leadership is desperately needed to finally end this practice. The Protecting Our Students in Schools Act is a comprehensive bill that would protect students and help to create a healthier and safer school climate, and The Education Trust urges Congress to move this legislation immediately.”

Specifically, the bill:

  • Prohibits the practice of corporal punishment in any school that receives federal funding;
  • Establishes numerous enforcement protections, including a private right of action, the involvement of the U.S. attorney general and the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, and a series of rigorous reporting requirements for states and school districts; and
  • Establishes a grant program for states and school districts to reduce exclusionary and aversive practices and to instead improve school climate and culture by implementing positive, proactive measures, including positive behavioral interventions, trauma-informed care, restorative justice interventions, implicit bias training, multi-tiered systems of support, culturally responsive teaching, and more.

“As the first professional organization to call for an end to school corporal punishment in 1975, the American Psychological Association applauds Representative Bonamici and Senator Murphy for introducing the Protecting Our Students in Schools Act, which recognizes that corporal punishment is an antiqued and ineffective form of discipline that causes undue injury and psychological trauma,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, CEO of the American Psychological Association. “Corporal punishment disproportionately impacts students of color and students with disabilities and has no place in our schools. Instead, we should be investing in policies that promote positive and safe school climates, increase school-based services that aim to address students’ mental and emotional well-being, and eradicate exclusionary discipline practices.”

“The NAACP strongly supports the Protecting Our Students in Schools Act. In many ways, the practice of corporal punishment harkens back to the days of slavery, causing irreparable emotional and physical damage to students and families,” said Ashley L. White, NAACP Educational Fellow for Equity Access and Opportunity. “Furthermore, corporal punishment disproportionately harms our most vulnerable students, namely Black children and youth, including those with disabilities and / or who have been targeted and tracked in the name of managing so-called "inappropriate" behaviors. Our Black children deserve better and we applaud Rep. Bonamici and Sen. Murphy's continued efforts in this fight.”

A summary of the Protecting Our Students in Schools Act can be found here. The full bill text can be found here.

The Protecting Our Students in Schools Act is endorsed by: National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, National PTA, The Education Trust, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Women's Law Center, Human Rights Campaign, NAACP, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), National Urban League, American Psychological Association, , Advocating 4 Kids, Inc., All4Ed, American Atheists, American Humanist Association, American Psychological Association, American School Counselor Association, American Youth Policy Forum, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Center for Learner Equity, Center for Popular Democracy, Children’s Defense Fund, Committee for Children, Council for Exceptional Children, Council of Administrators of Special Education, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Dignity in Schools Campaign, Education Reform Now, Disability Law Colorado, EduColor, Elite Educational Consulting, Every Texan, Fannie Education Alliance, First Focus Campaign for Children, Girls Inc., GLSEN, Gwinnett SToPP, Ibero American Action League, Inc., Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), KIPP Foundation, Lives in the Balance, Mississippi Coalition to End Corporal Punishment, National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Association of Social Workers, National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI), National Center for Learning Disabilities, National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), National Down Syndrome Congress, National Parents Union, New Leaders, Nollie Jenkins Family Center, Inc., Open Society Policy Center, Parent Education Organizing Council, Racial Justice NOW, S.T.A.N.D. Up, Texas Appleseed, Texas Kids Can’t Wait, The Advocacy Institute, The Arc of the United States, The Federal School Discipline and Climate Coalition (FedSDC), TNTP, U.S. Alliance to End the Hitting of Children, United Women in Faith, Uplift MN, and Volunteer State Seal of Biliteracy.