East Texas high school principal cleared of child abuse charges after paddling student

ByPooja Salhotra, The Texas Tribune
Saturday, October 28, 2023
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OVERTON, Texas -- An East Texas high school principal who paddled a student and injured her will not be criminally prosecuted.

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The Rusk County District Attorney's office filed a motion to dismiss the case, which sprung from an Aug. 14 incident when Overton High School principal Jeff Hogg used a wooden paddle to discipline an unnamed female student.

Hogg was arrested in September on one count of assault but was released on bond and quickly returned to his duties as principal as the DAs office investigated.

In a motion to dismiss the case, the DA's office cited an email from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Service that found the alleged abuse did not occur. The motion also noted that Hogg had acted in accordance with the school district's corporal punishment policy and that he had the authority of the student's parent. A justice of the peace approved the motion and ordered the case be dismissed this week.

Texas is one of 17 states that allow public school educators to use corporal punishment, which includes hitting, spanking, paddling or deliberately inflicting pain to discipline students. A school district's board of trustees must adopt a policy allowing the practice, and parents can opt their student out of corporal punishment by providing written notice to the district.

Overton High School, which sits in a town of about 2,300 people, is one of 8,758 Texas high schools that used corporal punishment on students during the 2017-18 school year, the most recent year for which data is available.

According to public documents, Hogg hit a female student three times, and the student had visible bruising at least 48 hours after the incident. The student reported a complaint with the Rusk County Sheriff's Office.

Overton ISD allows students to choose between paddling or in-school suspension. In this case, the student chose paddling, and the student's parent and another female witness remained in the room. After receiving two hits, the student said she was hurt and didn't want the third hit, the affidavit states, but both Hogg and the student's mother encouraged the student to complete the punishment. The student decided to follow through and receive the third hit.

A forensic pediatrician who evaluated photographs of the child's injuries said that the injuries were "consistent with abuse," according to the affidavit. Still, the district attorney's office said that such phrasing is popular for scientific testimony but may not be sufficiently reliable.

Research has repeatedly found that corporal punishment does not benefit students and can worsen their mental health and lead to increased aggression and antisocial behavior. The American Academy of Pediatrics has urged states to abandon the practice in favor of nonviolent behavioral strategies such as restorative justice, conflict resolution and individual therapy.

Texas lawmakers have long discussed banning the practice. Rep. Alma Allen, a Houston Democrat and former public school teacher, has carried a bill to eliminate the practice in each biennial session for the past 18 years. This year, the bill did make it onto the House floor, where Republican lawmakers referenced the Bible to argue that schools should be allowed to continue the practice. The bill failed with a 58-86 vote in the lower chamber.

"To me, it reflects poorly on the Texas Legislature that this law is allowed to exist," Robert Fathman, the founder of the National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools, said. "Texas is one of a shrinking number of states where teachers are hitting kids with boards. That should be a terrible embarrassment to everyone in the state of Texas."

Superintendent of Overton ISD Larry Calhoun said he supports the district attorney's action to dismiss the case.

"We had believed from the beginning that this was the only appropriate result," Calhoun said. "We don't feel the need to publicly discuss the incident any further. We will continue to focus our efforts on serving our students and community and on emphasizing the great things that happen everyday at Overton ISD."

Calhoun said the school board evaluates district policies each year and they would likely evaluate the corporal punishment policy as well.

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