U.S. Department of Education Issues Dear Colleague Letter Calling for End to Corporal Punishment in Schools and Guiding Principles on School Discipline

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Today, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona wrote to Governors, Chief State School Officers, and School District and School Leaders and urged them to end corporal punishment in schools—the practice of paddling, spanking, or otherwise imposing physical punishmenton students. This letter reinforces the Department of Education’s (Department’s) position that corporal punishment in schools should be replaced with evidence-based practices, such as implementing multi-tiered systems of support like Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, that create a safe and healthy school environments. Every student and educator should feel safe and supported inside of school buildings; and more importantly, schools should always be free from the threat of violence.

“It’s unacceptable that corporal punishment remains legally permissible in at least 23 states. Our children urgently need their schools to raise the bar for supporting their mental health and wellbeing,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “Despite years of research linking corporal punishment to poorer psychological, behavioral, and academic outcomes, tens of thousands of children and youth are subjected to beating and hitting or other forms of physical harm in school every academic year, with students of color and students with disabilities disproportionately affected. Schools should be places where students and educators interact in positive, nurturing ways that foster students’ growth and development, dignity, and sense of belonging—not places that condone violence and instill fear and mistrust.”

Despite decades of research showing the short and long-term harms of corporal punishment, the practice continues to be legal in at least 23 states.

In addition, the Department released guiding principles on how to maintain safe, inclusive, supportive, and fair learning environments for students and school staff, including specific recommendations for evidence-based practices to give students what they need to learn and grow. The Department stands ready to support efforts to replace harmful disciplinary practices, including exclusionary discipline and corporal punishment. Through the historic funding under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, and additional laws like the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the Department can support these evidence-based practices consistent with program requirements. The Department will also continue to support schools in their efforts to move away from the use of exclusionary and physical punishment through its technical assistance centers, including the Best Practices Clearinghouse, National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments, and National Center to Improve Social and Emotional Learning and School Safety, among other resources.

These actions today show a continued commitment by the Biden-Harris Administration to Raise the Bar in education, advance equity, and support the well-being, safety and success of all students.

The letter builds upon the Department’s position from a similar action in 2016 under the direction of then Secretary John King Jr. and 2014 under the direction of Secretary Arne Duncan in the Obama-Biden Administration.