ANNAPOLIS -- The five small counties that have corporal punishment in their schools under Maryland law may not use it much, but they don't want to give it up.
They came close to losing it yesterday, however, when a Senate bill proposing a statewide ban on corporal punishment failed for the lack of one vote.
Sen. Idamae Garrott, a Montgomery County Democrat and former teacher, said she plans to ask for reconsideration today in hopes that she will pick up the 24 votes necessary for passage of her bill.
The corporal punishment ban is a perennial bill in Annapolis, but it has seldom come so close to passage in the Senate. Usually, the House of Delegates approves the ban, then the Senate amends it to keep the current list of exempted counties.
Yesterday's 23-21 vote, which failed for a lack of constitutional majority, came after a debate in which legislators from small, rural counties told the rest of the state, in the words of Sen. Walter M. Baker, "just leave us alone."
"We don't have real big problems in our local schools out in the hinterlands of Maryland because we walk softly and carry a big stick," said the Democrat from Cecil County, which is one of the five jurisdictions that has not banned corporal punishment. "Respect the country folk."
Under current law, 12 rural and Eastern Shore counties are exempt from the state's ban on corporal punishment. However, seven of those have banned physical discipline by policy or local school board action. That leaves Cecil, Queen Anne's, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester with corporal punishment. Such punishment has been used only in Wicomico among the five over the past two years -- twice last year and twice so far this year.
Senator Garrott said the fact that corporal punishment is seldom used is not reason enough to continue exempting 12 counties from the state law.
"You do not instill a love of learning in children by means of a thick paddle," she said. "We cannot fight violence without a statewide policy."
Susan P. Leviton, president of Advocates for Children and Youth Inc., said national studies on quality of life for children downgrade those states that still allow corporal punishment.
"It's not an issue of local control," Ms. Leviton said. "If there was ever an example of foolishness, this really is."