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Missouri school district allows parents to opt in to corporal punishment of their children

The Cassville R-IV School District is letting parents choose whether district personnel can physically discipline their students.

A school district in Missouri is giving parents the option of allowing it to administer corporal punishment to their children.

The Cassville R-IV School District, in southwest Missouri near the Arkansas border, has notified parents they can opt in to the physical discipline, according to the district policy and parents who spoke to NBC News.

Missouri is one of 19 states where corporal punishment is legal.

The policy, adopted June 16, defines corporal punishment as "the use of physical force as a method of correcting student behavior."

"Corporal punishment, as a measure of correction or of maintaining discipline and order in schools, is permitted," the policy says.

"However, it shall be used only when all other alternative means of discipline have failed, and then only in reasonable form and upon the recommendation of the principal. It should never be inflicted in the presence of other students.”

The policy also says corporal punishment shall be administered only by certified personnel in the presence of a witness who is a district employee. Corporal punishment shall be administered so “that there can be no chance of bodily injury or harm,” according to the policy, which adds: “Striking a student on the head or face is not permitted.”

The policy didn’t explicitly say how the corporal punishment will be administered.

No one with the district, including Superintendent Merlyn Johnson, could be reached for comment Thursday.

Johnson told NBC's “TODAY” show by email that the administration’s policies “can be found online” and that the district has “provided interviews with multiple media outlets.” He added, “At this time we will focus on educating our students." 

The Springfield News-Leader reported that the district abandoned corporal punishment in 2001. But Johnson told the newspaper that some parents had been asking whether the district could "paddle" their children.

“Parents have said ‘why can’t you paddle my student?’ and we’re like, ‘We can’t paddle your student, our policy does not support that,’” Johnson told the newspaper. “There had been conversation with parents and there had been requests from parents for us to look into it.”

Johnson told NBC affiliate KYTV of Springfield that a survey sent out to parents, students and staff members in May ultimately led to the new policy.

“One of the suggestions that came out was concerns about student discipline,” Johnson told KYTV. “So we reacted by implementing several different strategies, corporal punishment being one of them.”

District parents had differing opinions about the return to corporal punishment.

Kimberly Richardson has three children in the Cassville school system, in second to fifth grade.

Richardson said that classes began Tuesday and that she “opted out.”

“I’m just not going to allow it. I’m not going to let other people spank my children,” she said.

Richardson said it appeared the district was regressing with the policy. She said she is also concerned a child may get hurt if the corporal punishment goes “too far.” But she acknowledged it’s up to each parent to determine what is best for their family.

Dylan Burns, who has a preschooler and a fifth grader in the district, has “opted in” and doesn't think it's a big deal. He said his children told him they’ll never get into trouble bad enough to warrant spanking.

Burns also said other nearby school districts have had corporal punishment stemming back decades.

“They are the only school in this area that did not do it prior to this,” he said. "The great thing about this is we all have a choice. If you want to do it, that’s fine. If you don’t want to do it, that’s fine, as well.”