Volume 102 - Issue 2 Georgetown Law Journal

Protecting Children’s Rights Inside of the Schoolhouse Gates: Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools

Part I of this Note analyzes corporal punishment in the constitutional arena. Section A discusses Ingraham and section B covers the constitutional aftermath of the decision. Section B specifically explains how claims against corporal punishment in schools have been raised under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, with circuit courts split regarding the applicability of these constitutional claims. Although other scholarship has explored the trajectory of circuit cases,18 this Note specifically argues that claims under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments are shortsighted: these fact-specific claims are rarely successful and only address the most egregious forms of corporal punishment in schools. Instead, this Note argues that reviving the constitutional challenge under the Eighth Amendment is the only constitutional means towards completely banning the practice in schools.
Part II presents a path by which the Supreme Court could overturn its jurisprudence in Ingraham and recognize that corporal punishment in schools violates children’s Eighth Amendment rights. Part II discusses the jurisprudence surrounding overturning precedent. Section A discusses why the Eighth Amendment is applicable to corporal punishment in schools, and section B discusses why physical punishment in schools is cruel and unusual. Section B also summarizes existing scholarship, which explains the consequences of corporal punishment on children and the local, national, and international movements to abolish this practice. Although other scholarship has made similar claims, this Note adds additional research to the discourse and further analyzes the Supreme Court’s recent jurisprudence surrounding adolescent development and the protection of children’s rights.
Part III encourages advocates to employ a legislative strategy, while simultaneously fighting for constitutional changes. Although scholarship about corporal punishment has focused almost exclusively on constitutional issues, this Note uniquely equips advocates with constitutionally sound legislative reforms. Section A discusses how advocates should lobby Congress to amend the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), create incentive grants similar to Race to the Top, and pass legislation that categorically ends physical punishments in schools—or at least some of the above. Section B argues that Congress can use its spending powers to enact these reforms and encourage states to ban corporal punishment in schools.

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