Jury rules in favor of school district in corporal punishment case

  • In US
  • 2023-01-21 00:09:00Z
  • By McAlester News-Capital, Okla.

Jan. 20-A Pittsburg County jury ruled in favor of the Indianola School District in a lawsuit alleging the district was negligent after a former principal used corporal punishment that left injuries to two fifth grade boys in 2018.

A jury consisting of six men and six women ruled former Indianola Public Schools principal Gary Gunckel was not negligent when he used a wooden paddle to swat two fifth-grade boys as punishment and left injuries on Sept. 6, 2018.

Attorneys for the two boys claimed the school district was negligent for not "carrying out and following its own polices," but defense attorneys said the boys chose swats as punishment and their parents approved.

Gunckel was dismissed from the lawsuit as an individual defendant after a judge granted summary judgement stipulating Gunckel had immunity under 51 O.S. § 152.1 and § 163 (C).

Felony charges of child abuse were filed against Gunckel in 2018 that alleged "unreasonable force" was used on the two students by spanking them with a wooden paddle. The charges were later dismissed in 2019.

The lawsuit sought damages in excess of $75,000 to be awarded to each boy for alleged damages of mental and physical harm from the incident, along with attorney fees and costs.

Jurors heard testimony from the parents of the boys, Gunckel, Indianola School Board President Nancy Battles, and Indianola Superintendent Adam Newman.

"This is a case about corporal punishment," said attorney Cameron Spradling, who represented the two boys along with Tod Mercer. "This trial is not whether you agree or disagree paddling should occur in Oklahoma schools."

Justin Cliburn, who represented Indianola Public Schools, told the jury Tuesday there are two sides to every story and to "remain patient and resist judgement" until all the evidence was presented during the two day trial that ended Wednesday.

Excerpts from IPS' policy dated from when the incident were shown to the jury which outlines the district's policy regarding the use of punishment.

The policy shown to the jury stated corporal punishment "must never be used unless it shocks the conscience" and "should never be used as a first line of punishment" and listed other forms of punishment before it is used.

Policy showed during Tuesday's opening statement also showed that corporal punishment was not listed as a form of punishment for any rule violation made by elementary school students.

"Gunckel was the judge, jury, and executioner on the boys' bodies," Spradling said. "He will not accept blame for what happened."

Large photos of the injuries caused to the boys were shown to the jury before the defense began its Tuesday opening statement.

Cliburn said the photos did not tell the entire story of what happened that day and did not prove negligence.

The defense said the two boys were involved in a verbal altercation on the playground when Gunckel took both boys to his office and spoke with them.

Cliburn said the two boys were given in-school detention and the boys instead requested a paddling with both mothers of the boys agreeing to the use of corporal punishment after Gunckel spoke with them about the boys' request.

"The boys and the parents deviated from policy," Cliburn told the jury. "This is not an out-of-control school district with a rogue principal."


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