The opinion of the court was delivered by: WEIS
The Northgate School District permits corporal punishment of students under carefully controlled situations. This suit challenges the right of the school to utilize such a disciplinary method on the grounds that it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and, secondly, it usurps parental rights.
The underlying Pennsylvania legislation is found in Purdon's Statutes, Title 24 § 13-1317, which reads as follows:
"Every teacher, vice principal and principal in the public schools shall have the right to exercise the same authority as to conduct and behavior over the pupils attending his school, during the time they are in attendance, including the time required in going to and from their homes, as the parents, guardians or persons in parental relation to such pupils may exercise over them."
In accordance with the authority granted by this statute, the School District promulgated certain administrative regulations with respect to punishment. They are as follows:
"Corporal punishment must be regarded as a last resort and may be employed only in cases where other means of seeking cooperation from a student have failed. The Bellevue Borough School Board requires that, if it appears that corporal punishment is likely to become necessary, the teacher must confer with the principal or assistant principal. The principal and the teacher must be in agreement on the necessity of corporal punishment, and it is the principal's responsibility to designate time, place, and the person to administer said punishment. In any case, the pupil should understand clearly the seriousness of the offense and the reasons for his punishment; however, care should be taken that the period of time between the offense and punishment is not so long as to cause undue anxiety in the pupil. The punishment must be administered in kindness in the presence of another adult and at a time and under conditions not calculated to hold the child up to ridicule or shame.
"Corporal punishment should never be administered to a child whom school personnel note to be under psychological or physical treatment, without a conference with the psychologist or physician.
"Repetition of this problem should be referred to the Guidance Services Department."
William Glaser, a seventh grade student in the Bellevue Junior High School, became involved in an altercation in the classroom with one George Espinosa on December 3, 1971. After quelling the disturbance, the teacher in charge took both 12 year old boys to the school office where they were interrogated both together and separately by Robert Perry, the assistant principal. After his discussion with the combatants, Mr. Perry concluded that William was at fault and since the boy had been admonished by several of his teachers on prior occasions about his hostility toward Espinosa, corporal punishment should be administered.
William said that his mother did not wish him to be paddled by school officials but when told that suspension was an alternative form of punishment, he chose paddling. In the presence of another adult member of the school staff, the vice principal then administered three "medium" paddle strokes on William's buttocks.
Testimony developed that paddling is used infrequently in the school system, and is invoked mainly in serious cases such as those involving fighting and snowballing. As a matter of personal discretion, Mr. Perry testified that he did not spank girls, feeling that other forms of punishment were more effective, and that he did not use corporal punishment on a student when parents requested otherwise.
He stated that he had not received any such prohibition respecting William from Mrs. Ruth Glaser, William's mother and the adult plaintiff. The disciplinary problems in this school, according to the record, are no different from those of a private academy and parochial schools located in the same area.
The first contention advanced by the plaintiffs is that corporal punishment in and of itself is violative of the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and, hence, the rights of the minor plaintiff were violated by spanking.
After careful consideration, we hold to our view that corporal punishment in the manner in which it is practiced in the Northgate School District is not violative of the Constitution insofar as the minor plaintiff is concerned. There was no excessive amount of force involved, the sanction is not used indiscriminately, and we do not find that use of corporal punishment per se is unreasonable under the circumstances.
The plaintiff produced child psychologists who testified that in their opinion corporal punishment was not warranted in an educational setting and, in opposition, the defense produced a highly qualified expert in the field who concluded that this form of discipline should indeed be used in the schools. The expert testimony was evenly balanced, indicating that there is indeed a sharp difference of opinion among those who have done extensive work and study on the problem. However, it is not for us to choose sides in this battle of the experts because the wisdom or desirability of utilizing corporal punishment as a means of discipline in the schools is not for this court to decide. The question is whether this method of disciplining children is per se unconstitutional and, hence, subject to attack by the person most directly effected, the child on the receiving end of the paddle.
We start with the obvious propositions that there is a difference between a child and an adult and that it is conceded that parents have the right to inflict corporal punishment upon their young children. The law recognizes that the immaturity of children in their earlier years and the consequent inability to recognize the necessity for regulation has traditionally been held to justify the moderate use of parental force as an effective alternative to reasoned exhortation. A method of parental control originating in the mists of prehistoric times, commended in Biblical references, sanctioned by ...