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Students can keep wearing shorts, fearing the paddle

Students still can wear shorts in Citrus public schools and they will still face paddlings for serious breaches of discipline, the School Board has decided.

The board debated those issues Tuesday in the annual review of changes to the Student Code of Conduct. The board, though, made few substantial changes other than adding a section talking about the board's "zero tolerance" policy toward violent acts in schools.

As has been her tradition, board member Ruthann Derrico made her annual plea to eliminate paddling.

"I've been a teacher for two years and I still have not changed my mind about corporal punishment. I still do not believe it belongs in the Student Code of Conduct . . . We have enough options out there to use without having to resort to hitting."

Derrico argued that the students who generally get paddled are those who have been hit often and for whom the punishment has little meaning.

"You cannot justify to me hitting a child for disciplinary purposes," Derrico said. "We send the wrong message when we do that."

Tony Whitehead, assistant principal at Crystal River High School and a member of the committee that reviewed the Code of Conduct, told the board that the committee decided that corporal punishment should be left as a listed option.

He added, though, that "Any of these disciplines done in hate could harm a child."

Board member David Watson favored keeping the paddling option as well. He said he had never found research showing that corporal punishment did not work in a school. "And the principals have said that they want it," Watson said.

Board members Sheila Whitelaw and Mark Stone said they wanted to keep the option as long as it kept some students in line.

Derrico was backed by board Chairwoman Janet Herndon, who listed the many local and national organizations opposed to paddling in school, ranging from the local medical society to the national PTA.

Pointing out that another portion of the Code of Conduct states that children cannot hit others at school, Herndon said, "I wish we could have a policy that says we hit no one."

That viewpoint also was advocated by community activist Ansel Briggs, who told the board that when he was a child, "I got hit by experts and it never worked . . .

"The greatest teacher of all time said that whatever you do unto these little ones you do unto me."

When the vote came, only Derrico and Herndon opposed paddling. They also were unable to pass a change to require parental permission before a child is paddled.

Briggs also criticized another new section being added to the discipline part of the Code of Conduct. He has actively criticized the "time-out" areas in the district's schools. For the first time the time-out option is listed in the document.

He argued that there are better ways of dealing with disruptive students than paddling them or putting them in time-out areas.

The board had little to say on the issue, but Herndon did change the wording slightly to ensure that the district follows all available guidelines on how to use time-outs.

The one issue the Code of Conduct committee could not resolve was whether to change the district's dress code and ban the wearing of shorts. School officials said the issue is raised almost every year. Some school administrators and parents have been concerned that shorts not meeting dress code guidelines are distracting.

"As a parent, I've been appalled when I walk into school," said committee member Donna Days. "The rule is not being enforced, so why have it?"

"You don't do away with the law," Watson responded. "You enforce it."

Board members took no action on the dress code issue.