Tennessee bill aims to ban corporal punishment for students with disabilities

NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) — A state lawmaker wants to make it illegal for students with disabilities to be paddled at Tennessee public schools.

Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville, filed the bill Wednesday, after a News 4 I-Team investigation revealed students with disabilities received corporal punishment at a higher rate than their peers without disabilities at 60 Middle Tennessee schools.

Renee and Adrian Garcia hope to see the bill become law.

“We are just grateful to be that voice for those parents who are worried about how the school system may react to their child,” Renee Garcia said.

News 4 first interviewed the Garcias last spring. The couple told us their son, Preston, was hit by his teacher while having a meltdown. Preston has autism.

“It made me mad. You are not going to strike my child and think you’re going to get away with it,” Adrian Garcia said.

That teacher was fired, but under state law, administrators can use corporal punishment even for students with special needs.

“A lot of people come up to me and say, ‘What? We still allow corporal punishment in the state of Tennessee? I can’t believe that,’” Powell said.

Powell said after seeing News 4’s story, he realized an urgent need.

“This is the year to do it, especially when you point out the fact that it happens at a much higher rate. It is shocking,” Powell said.

In 2015, Powell introduced legislation that would have banned it for all students, but it died in subcommittee.

Powell feels this bill has more of a chance.

The Garcias said they will fight to see it become law.

“We are not done. This is just a stepping stone in the right direction. We are not going to stop fighting,” Renee Garcia said.

State officials are also looking into the numbers shared by News 4. The state comptroller’s office launched an investigation this past summer into the use of corporal punishment among students with disabilities. They plan to release their findings before spring.

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