Polk teacher returns after suspension for paddling - WFLA News Channel 8

Polk teacher returns after suspension for paddling

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Paddlings took place at Frostproof Middle-Senior High School Paddlings took place at Frostproof Middle-Senior High School

Frostproof Middle-Senior High School teacher John Clemons said it was all in the spirit of "fun and games" when he administered "birthday licks" to two of his students the week before Christmas in his industrial arts class.

But in the end, it wasn't much fun for him. Clemons spent more than three months on paid administrative leave unit school investigators could sort out what happened.

"As soon as we were aware of it we took immediate action," said Polk School District Spokeswoman Leah Lauderdale.

After a school district investigator finished a months-long inquiry, Assistant Superintendent Dennis Dunn concluded that Clemons and committed acts of "serious misconduct" when he gave two of his students their "birthday licks" on December 20th. 

The Polk School District suspended Clemons for five days without pay starting on April 8th.

The case began when the furious father of a 17-year-old student complained that Clemons coerced her into bending over a desk in his classroom and submitting to 17 whacks of a paddle to commemorate her birthday. He had just administered 16 swats to a boy in the class for his birthday.

According to witnesses interviewed in the school investigation, the girl resisted the paddling but Clemons insisted she go along with it "or be randomly attacked throughout the year until she takes 17 hits."

The girl's father took photos of her buttocks that showed red marks and bruising, and turned them over to the school district when he complained the next day. The boy did not complain.

The issue of bruising became a bit hard to sort out, because after the girl left Clemons' classroom, a friend of hers also swatted her buttocks with a cooking pot. The girl said when she examined herself after that, she noticed the marks and bruising.

There were also conflicting witness statements about the girl's state of mind. Some students and teachers said she didn't mind the birthday hazing, and laughed about it afterward.

Clemons insisted that he didn't strike either student very hard with one of the three paddles he kept in his classroom for just such occasions. Until that incident, the district said Clemons had an unblemished 20 year record of teaching and coaching in Polk schools.

Clemons did not return messages News Channel 8 left for him by phone and in person at the school.

The father of the 17-year-old girl said the event traumatized his daughter to the point where he had to withdraw her from Frostproof and send her to another school. He asked that we not identify her, so that she can move on with her studies without harassment.

Meanwhile parents at Frostproof Middle-Senior High School have mixed reactions to what happened.

"I don't know," said Beatrice Ramos. "Because in my time we used to get paddled in school."

"No one has a right to lay anything on the child unless it's the parent," said parent Debra Bergere. "That's ridiculous."

Polk County discontinued any form of corporal punishment in 2007. School investigator Manny Rodriguez said Clemons paddles are now in the hands of law enforcement.

Prosecutors in Polk County decided not to file charges against Clemons for the paddling.

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