DELTA, Miss. (CN) - A mother says her son's assistant principal paddled the 15-year-old boy so hard he fainted, fell face-first on a concrete floor and broke his jaw and five teeth. She claims Mississippi schools apply corporal punishment abusively and in a gender-biased manner, and that the state law that permits it is unconstitutional.
The student, T.C., and his mother Dana Hamilton sued the Tate County School District, Tate County Schools Conservator James Malone and Independence High School Assistant Principal Jerome Martin in Federal Court.
The mother cites federal statistics that beatings by school administrators are overwhelmingly administered in the Southern Bible Belt, and says the beatings are "founded upon the religious conviction it is a sin to spare the rod and spoil the child."
T.C. says Martin called him to the principal's office in March this year, after a teacher kicked him out of her class and sent him to the library, for not sitting in his assigned seat.
"While sitting in the library on March 10, 2011, defendant Martin noticed plaintiff," the complaint states. "Mr. Martin approached plaintiff and stated plaintiff's alleged behavior problems were going to stop. Mr. Martin appeared angry and agitated to plaintiff."
After calling T.C.'s mother about her son's "behavior problems," Martin paddled T.C. three times on the butt, "with excessive and great force", according to the complaint.
The boy and his mom say "the paddling, however, was so severe that within seconds of being struck by Mr. Martin, plaintiff fainted and fell face-first onto the concrete floor. Plaintiff fell in the hallway just outside the office and steps away from where, moments before, he was forcefully struck with a paddle.
"When plaintiff regained consciousness, he was bleeding and five (5) of his teeth were shattered. His jaw was in severe pain and he never made it back to class."
T.C. and his mom say "the severity of the paddling suffered by plaintiff was evident by the visible bruising of his buttocks. Mr. Martin hit C. so hard welts and severe bruising remained on his buttocks for days.
"[Neither] Mr. Martin, nor any other TCSD employee, called 9-1-1 or any other emergency response crew to tend to the plaintiff who suffered serious injury and was in visible pain. Rather, Mr. Martin called Ms. Hamilton and asked her to come down to the school. Mr. Martin did not communicate the extent of plaintiff's injuries, nor did he explain that plaintiff was bleeding, missing teeth and in severe pain. Ms. Hamilton, therefore, did not appreciate the emergency nature of the phone call."
When his mother arrived, T.C. says he had been in severe pain for almost an hour.
The boy underwent surgery for his broken jaw, had to be fed through a straw for 2 weeks, and missed 4 weeks of school due to his injuries. He suffered severe dental damage, mental anxiety and stress.
His mother says that the "defendants' sanctioning of a beating under the guise of corporal punishment is particularly egregious, since the school district knew, from a corporal punishment lawsuit ongoing at this time, its corporal punishment practices were severe, excessive and under judicial review."
She says Mississippi school officials have a record of using corporal punishment in a biased and abusive manner.
The complaint cites U.S. Department of Education statistics showing that Mississippi and four other Southern states account for 75 percent of the corporal punishment in U.S. schools.
The complaint states: "Corporal punishment's infusion into the Mississippi school system is founded upon the religious conviction it is a sin to spare the rod and spoil the child. Mississippi is in the Bible Belt, as are Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia and Texas. It is this religious connection - the connection between religious demographics and geography - that has resulted in seventy-five percent (75%) of all the nation's use of corporal punishment stemming from the five states in the Bible Belt."
The mom adds that Mississippi schools paddle boys in disproportionately high numbers.
"The reason behind the disproportionate administration of corporal punishment stems from an institutionalized bias that male students misbehave more frequently than female students," the complaint states. "In an interview with the New York Times, Mr. Malone admitted that this biased, unfounded and uncorroborated belief that males are more troublesome than girls is the reason why male students are paddled more frequently than female students.
"Corporal punishment has become a serious, gender-driven crisis in Mississippi because school districts, as evident by Mr. Malone's admission, do not treat male and female students equally when it comes to beating the students' backside. Male students, due to the unfounded belief they are more troublesome, are overwhelmingly singled out, while female students receive a pass. This crisis is further heightened by the fact that there are zero guidelines on how school districts, such as TCSD, should administer the punishment. This creates an environment where discretion is influenced by unfounded prejudices."
The boy and his mom seek compensatory and punitive damages for constitutional and state law violations, negligence, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and they want the use of corporal punishment declared unconstitutional.
They are represented by Joseph Murray II of Ripley, Miss.
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