Indiana is one of 20 states where spanking remains an option for student discipline.
However, most public school districts in Lake and Porter counties do not allow corporal punishment, and among those that do, officials say it is used rarely. Some local schools that allow corporal punishment are associated with religious institutions, and their administrators also say its use is the exception, not the rule.
Stephanie Sample, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Education, said Indiana law does not prohibit the use of corporal punishment though individual school districts may prohibit its use.
Schools can, when appropriate, use corporal punishment if local policy allows, she said. Under Indiana law, a school's use of corporal punishment is governed by the type of offense and must be consistent with the rights of the parents to discipline the child.
"I don't know if there is much support in the literature for corporal punishment, but there is plenty of information about the negative effects of corporal punishment," said Indiana University Northwest education professor Janice Grskovic.
"Most parents may use it up until the ages of 2 or 3 to protect children from a dangerous situation. But when you use corporal punishment on older children, you help them to develop violence and aggression, and that doesn't teach them problem-solving skills."
Grskovic said children with disabilities receive corporal punishment disproportionately, along with black students. "Paddling and beating is not a way to teach children," she said.
Ambassador Christian Academy in Gary, which teaches students up to eighth grade, is one school that allows corporal punishment. A private religious school, Ambassador has the greatest number of state tuition vouchers in Indiana at 110. The school received nearly a $500,000 in public support from those vouchers.
A clause in the school's registration form asks parents to sign off on its discipline policy, which allows the school to use Step 3 — use of corporal punishment if the first two disciplinary steps are not successful. The form says one teacher must witness the punishment, which should be administered to the hand or bottom. Each parent is asked to sign the "Permission to Spank" form. It says parents will be notified of a spanking and are asked to reinforce discipline at home.
Ambassador Principal Vercena Stewart referred calls from The Times to school Superintendent Cedric Oliver, who also is pastor of Embassies of Christ Church, which established the school. Oliver declined to comment.
Brian Rinehart, principal at Fairhaven Baptist Academy in Chesterton, said the school uses corporal punishment because "it works."
Rinehart said the school, established in 1972 — a couple of years after the church — serves about 160 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. He said the school asks parents to sign off on the policy when students are enrolled.
"We administer corporal punishment on the bottom," he said. "It's done in front of the whole class so no one can claim abuse. We want parents to know up front. We don't surprise them."
Fairhaven faced protests last fall after five former students told CNN they had been physically abused as children by school officials. Pastor Roger Voegtlin denied the claims in an interview with CNN.
Gary Community School Corp. and Lake Station Community Schools are among public districts that allow corporal punishment as a last resort.
Gary Superintendent Myrtle Campbell said if corporal punishment is administered, it should be done in a way that no permanent injury occurs and a second adult must be present.
"However, we are moving away from corporal punishment," Campbell said. She said the district is using a behavior modification plan that addresses anger management, conflict resolution and mutual respect. Campbell said that progressive discipline program is much more effective than corporal punishment.
Lake Station Superintendent Dan DeHaven said corporal punishment is on the books but not used.
"We haven't used corporal punishment in probably 15 or 20 years," he said. "I keep thinking we need to change the policy and take it off our insurance coverage, but we haven't gotten around to doing it yet. We don't do it because it's not worth the aggravation. We're a hands-off environment. If a student misbehaves, we suspend."
Rod Gardin, East Porter County School Corp. superintendent, said there is a "standing" directive to principals that corporal punishment is not used. "We believe it's a punishment that's at the parent's choice, not in the school setting," he said.
John Williams, personnel director for Crown Point Community School Corp., said he believes principals do a good job of disciplining students without using corporal punishment.
School City of Hammond administrator Theresa Mayerik said the district stopped using corporal punishment more than 23 years ago. "I remember I was an assistant principal at the time," she recalled. "Personally, I am not in favor of corporal punishment. I believe the discipline process should be a learning experience for students. They should learn their behavior is wrong and what they need to do to correct it."