Rep. Regina English’s bill to prohibit corporal punishment in schools and child care centers cleared the House this week — but not before she battled it out with fellow lawmakers from the Colorado Springs delegation.
If passed into law, House Bill 1191 would ban willfully causing physical pain to a child as punishment by employees and volunteers in public schools, state-licensed child care centers, family child care centers and specialized group facilities.
“With this bill, we’re creating a safer environment for Colorado children to learn and grow,” English, D-Colorado Springs, said. “Parents should be able to send their kids to child care and school without fearing that they face corporal punishment, which many of us thought was something we left behind long ago.”
Colorado is one of only 19 states in which corporal punishment in schools is still legal. State law does not explicitly allow or prohibit corporal punishment in schools, though school districts are able to develop their own policies.
The prevalence of corporal punishment in Colorado schools is unclear, as the state doesn’t collect data on the issue. During the 2011-12 school year, the U.S. Department of Education found 485 self-reported instances of corporal punishment used in Colorado school districts.
The House voted 48-16 in support of the bill on Wednesday, advancing it to the Senate for further consideration. But the El Paso County delegation was more split, with four of the representatives voting “yes” and four voting “no.”
“Pain is a primal motivator. You learn via pain,” said Rep. Ken DeGraaf, R-Colorado Springs, who voted against the bill. “Sometimes it’s best to experience an artificial or synthetic consequence before it’s permanent. There are too many adults in our jail system right now experiencing life-long consequences because they did not experience the synthetic consequences.”
DeGraaf also said the decision of whether to ban corporal punishment should be left to individual schools and school districts, a common refrain among opponents of the bill. Others raised concerns about whether the bill could prevent teachers from using punishments such as making students do push-ups and questioned how a teacher could know each student’s unique pain tolerance.
Rep. Rose Pugliese, R-Colorado Springs, defended the bill, saying it is only intended to prevent the intentional infliction of physical pain as punishment, such as spanking or paddling. In committee, lawmakers rejected amendments that would have expanded the bill to also prohibit “excessive” athletic activity and “emotional or mental harm.”
Pugliese was the only Colorado Springs Republican to support the bill and one of three Republicans overall, joining Reps. Brandi Bradley of Littleton and Anthony Hartsook of Parker. All Democrats supported the bill.
“I was amazed at how many texts I received from people saying, ‘We’ve had this problem in our schools,’” Pugliese said. “Nobody wants anyone to lay their hand on their child, and especially special-needs children who might have some more issues. We want to make sure we’re handling them appropriately, but we also want to make sure we’re protecting children in schools.”
The bill specifically carves out exemptions for pain or discomfort caused during voluntary athletics and for using force for self-defense, to break up a fight or disturbance, or to take a weapon or dangerous object from a child.
Rep. Mary Bradfield, R-Colorado Springs, said though she thinks the bill is well-meaning, the Legislature should allow school districts to handle the issue on their own. A longtime educator, Bradfield said lawmakers "do not have to take on everything.”
“So many of these so-called solutions come from naivete, inexperience, never been there, don’t know what it’s like, haven’t lived a week in a classroom, haven’t had unruly kids,” Bradfield said. “Well-meaning, well-intended, but end up with an opposite effect.”
This is the second time the Legislature has tried to ban corporal punishment in schools. The first attempt in 2017 passed the House but was rejected in the then-Republican-controlled Senate.
HB 1191 is backed by groups including the Colorado Education Association, Colorado Children's Campaign, Denver Public Schools and American Academy of Pediatrics. No organizations registered in opposition to the bill, including the Colorado Association of School Boards.
The bill will next be sent to the Senate for another vote.