The shocking video made national headlines, but the principal won't face criminal charges. Here's what to know about the story, corporal punishment in the U.S., and what caregivers can do.

By Beth Ann Mayer
May 17, 2021
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A video of a school principal and a 6-year-old girl has made headlines for all the wrong reasons.

In the video, Central Elementary School principal Melissa Carter is seen striking a first-grader three times with a paddle as another staff member holds her down. After the first strike, the girl, who CBS This Morning correspondent David Begnaud tweeted is 3 feet tall, jumped up and cried. The girl's mother took the video. She says the school called her to come in and pay $50 because her daughter had damaged a computer.

Carter was placed on administrative leave, and Clewiston police investigated. The principal will not face charges because Deputy Chief Assistant State Attorney Abraham R. Thornbury wrote the girl's mother gave permission for the paddling, according to an official report. The mother says a language barrier prevented her from understanding what was happening, per the police report.

WINK News, the Southwest Florida CBS affiliate, first shared the video in late April. The story went national shorty after WINK's report. One clip of the video, tweeted by Begnaud, has been viewed more than 20K times.

An image of a paddle.
Credit: Getty Images.

"There is no justification for this behavior whatsoever. This is child abuse!" one person tweeted in response to Begnaud. "Why is this legal in any state?" asked another.

It's actually still legal in 19 states, including Florida, but the district banned the practice in 2016, WINK reported. The 18 other states that still permit corporal punishment in public schools are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming.

A 2017 social policy report found that minority students and children with disabilities receive corporal punishment more often than their peers. For example, in more than half of the school districts in Alabama and Mississippi, Black kids were 51 percent more likely to receive corporal punishment than white children. And children with disabilities were disciplined with corporal punishment 50 percent more often than their peers without disabilities in several Southeastern states.

What can caregivers do if they live in a state where corporal punishment is permitted in schools? Experts say some districts let caregivers fill out an opt-out form, or parents can put it in writing that they do not wish to allow school officials to paddle their child. But experts also warn that these notes or forms don't guarantee a child won't receive corporal punishment. They encourage people to write or call state and federal representatives to get the practice banned in their districts and nationally.