In a reversal from previous years, a state House committee Wednesday voted 6-5 to ban the paddling of public school students in Louisiana.
Under current rules, that decision is left to local school districts.
At least 38 of Louisiana's 69 school systems allow corporal punishment, according to Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association.
The measure, House Bill 497, narrowly passed the House Education Committee and next faces a vote in the full House.
Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, sponsor of the bill, said paddling amounts to child abuse.
Norton said studies show the same students are punished year after year, and others said black students are often the target.
"It is not working," Norton said. "It didn't work yesterday. It is not working today."
The ban, if it wins final legislative approval, would represent something of a sea change in Louisiana, where paddling has long been part of the school culture, especially in rural districts.
Paddling was used about 3,000 times statewide in the most recent reporting period, state officials said.
However, Norton's bill faces an uncertain future in the Louisiana House.
Opponents are expected to argue that educators closest to the students should make the final call on discipline.
The committee vote overshadowed earlier action, when the panel easily endorsed a bill that would ban the use of corporal punishment for students with disabilities.
That plan, House Bill 79, is part of Gov. John Bel Edwards' public schools agenda and now faces a vote, and likely approval, in the full House.
Louisiana's tradition of paddling public school students includes those with disabilities, a…
The House Education Committee, which then had a different makeup, rejected similar bills by Norton in 2009 and 2010.
The outright ban on paddling was backed by Kate Mehok, CEO of Crescent City Schools, which operates three charter schools in Orleans Parish.
"I feel very strongly that the state should take a stand that we should not be paddling our children in schools," Mehok told the committee. "It just seems so wrong for me on different levels."
Richard said the Louisiana School Boards Association believes local school districts should have the final call, which is current law.
"At the end of the day this has traditionally been a local decision between the parent and the school staff," he said. "We would like to see it stay that way."
Richard said 16 school districts ban paddling. Policies for the others are unclear, he said.
Caroline Roemer, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, said a survey of some of her schools showed a 50-50 split on corporal punishment.
Where they agree, Roemer said, is that the decision should be made by local educators.
Rep. Joesph Bouie, D-New Orleans, said 31 states ban corporal punishment while Louisiana and 18 others allow it.
House Committee Chairwoman Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, said she has concerns on how corporal punished is doled out, including whether female students are disciplined by other females. "They are paddling them on their bottoms, right? It is a touchy subject," Landry said.
Richard said that, while he could not recall specific policies, he said "common sense would prevail" in such cases and any discipline includes two administrators – one to paddle, one to witness.
Officials said some districts that allow paddling first contact parents or guardians before any punishment is done.
Officials also said the days when students were forced to "drop their drawers" before being paddled are gone.
Voting "yes" on the Norton bill were Reps. Bouie; Landry; Jeffrey Hall, D-Alexandria; Stephanie Hilferty, R-Metairie; Ed Price, D-Gonzales; and Patrica Smith, D-Baton Rouge.
Voting "no" on the proposal were Reps. Beryl Amedee, R-Houma; Reid Falconer, R-Mandeville; Scott Simon, R-Abita Springs; Polly Thomas, R-Metairie; and Julie Emerson, R-Carencro.
The ban on corporal punishment for students with disabilities sparked no disagreement.
HB79, by Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, would make it illegal to administer the discipline to students with autism, intellectual disability, students with a traumatic brain injury and others. "We have a population that is our most vulnerable," Foil told the committee.
About 16 percent of all students who were given corporal punishment had disabilities during the 2015-16 school year, according to figures compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center.