2022 News (Small Newsroom) Winner

Tara García-Mathewson, The Hechinger Report

About the Winner:

Corporal punishment has been on the decline in U.S. schools for the last several decades, in part because of growing evidence that it harms kids and their learning. But in some school districts, administrators still routinely turn to the paddle, subjecting kids as young as kindergarten to spankings and physical abuse.

Tara García-Mathewson spent months analyzing federal, state and school district data to explore the extent of this practice, how and why it perpetuates, and the impact on kids. In her in-depth piece on the school district in Covington County, Mississippi, one of the country’s leading paddlers, she explores how families are sometimes given a choice: suspension or the paddle.

Faced with missed learning time and a daytime scramble for child care, parents often opt for the quicker return to class. Administrators, meanwhile, tout that they give families a chance to opt out of corporal punishment, a claim that helps blunt criticism of the practice and allows it to endure.

Comments From the Judges:

“This was a shocking look into the (unbelievable) continued use of corporal punishment in schools and what appears to be the routine, and excessive use of paddling in one district — Covington, Mississippi. Excellent data collection and a useful map on states that still allow corporal punishment. Details like the nicknames that principals gave to their wooden paddles made the story all the more chilling.”

“Impressive analysis of data and attention on the details to make the story land forcefully with the reader. The conflicts about corporal punishment within communities are masterfully revealed by the reporter.”