Cruel or Usual Punishment?

Miami-Dade County has a hands-off policy toward its schoolchildren, but that doesn't mean corporal punishment has gone away

Rosa Castro Feinberg, who helped pass the district's ban on paddling, agrees that class is paramount in one's attitude toward spanking children. (Her late husband, Alfred Feinberg, had originally represented the plaintiffs in Ingraham v. Wright, though he died before it reached the high court.) “Part of the problem, and this is terrible, schools are run by middle-class people, many recently escaped from lower-class origins,” she recounts. “These kids can be a reminder of what we want to forget about those origins. It's a love-hate relationship. But hitting these kids is not the answer. We can't hit them today and expect them not to hit back tomorrow.”

When the school board first adopted its single-member district voting structure, old-guard liberals such as Castro Feinberg and McAliley feared that the new board -- which would include not only more black members but more politically conservative Cuban Americans -- would undo many policies of the old board, the corporal punishment ban among them. A 1996 Herald-NBC 6 poll indicated that the respondents were split evenly on the issue of spanking, but showed that 65 percent of black respondents favored a return to the rod.

Only one candidate in the 1996 election, Renier Diaz de la Portilla, took a strong stand in favor of paddling; he won that year, but was voted out in 1998. On the current board, Solomon Stinson has indicated he will support the policy unless his constituents clamor for a change. No other school board member has raised the issue in recent years.

Former school board member Rosa Castro Feinberg, now a professor at FIU, is proud that she helped put an end to paddling
Steve Satterwhite
Former school board member Rosa Castro Feinberg, now a professor at FIU, is proud that she helped put an end to paddling

The Miami-Dade County ban on beating students appears safe. Statewide the trend against corporal punishment could very well spread to more counties, if not all of Florida. Activist Shaloma Shawmut-Lessner says she is planning a group canoe tour of the state for this winter, “to show the only thing paddles should be used for.”

Meanwhile Miami-Dade's most famous spanker, Willie J. Wright, remains in the school system. After the Ingraham incident, he continued to serve as a principal for the next three decades. Throughout his career he has been the subject of numerous investigations for allegedly violating school board rules. (The district could not provide details of those cases at press time.)

The 70-year-old Wright is in fact under investigation right now, and the complainant is a student, but the school district can release no more details of the pending inquiry. District records do show that Wright was transferred in June from his post as principal of William A. Chapman Elementary School to a job in the schools' transportation department. A source tells New Times the allegation is one involving battery against a student.

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