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When does a prom dress deserve a paddling?

Have you heard about the Prom Night Paddlefest? It happened earlier this month, when Erica DeRamus, a high school senior in Oxford, Ala., got in trouble for violating her school's dress code by wearing a seafoam green cocktail dress with a jeweled bodice and a tutu-style skirt that was deemed too-too short by the principal. For her skimpy prom dress, Erica was given the choice between a three-day suspension or a paddling as punishment. She took the three days off, but 17 other students – presumably all girls because there just aren't that many X-rated tuxedos out there – chose to be spanked.

This sounds not only draconian, but really creepy: under-age girls caught in revealing gowns lining up to be spanked by their principal in the deep south? The porn industry doesn't need writers with this kind of crap happening in our schools.

Principal Trey Holloday says the Rebels Without a Bra violated a school policy that states dresses cannot have cleavage falling below the breastbone or hems more than six inches above the knee. I understand that schools have to play fashion police sometimes. It gets disruptive when Suzie is letting it all hang out during the biology exam. But prom? It's true that Slutty Chic prom dresses are all the rage and that girls today subscribe to the "nothing left to the imagination" fashion creed. But this is a four-hour event that usually takes place off school premises. Don't schools have enough on their plates without spending time measuring plunging necklines? Shouldn't that be the parents' job? That's not babysitting money those girls are dropping on those $300-$500 gowns; a parent was involved somewhere in the decision-making process. If parents approve of the gown, the school should stay out of it unless the dress is made of Saran Wrap or explosives.ã

In my opinion, Erica's frothy number ( was the picture of modesty compared to what I've seen on the backs of most Miami girls. But school fashion rules aren't what really bother me here; it's the fact that some schools are still doling out spankings. If reasonable adults can differ on what's acceptable attire for prom imagine the differences of opinion when it comes to determining what kind of offenses constitute a whooping, not to mention the varying strengths of that beating. How many smacks does a skimpy prom dress deserve?

It surprises a lot of people that corporal punishment is still legal in this country. This hits closer to home than you might think. It was the result of a Miami lawsuit heard by the U.S. Supreme Court that actually gives schools the right to use corporal punishment.

In 1970, 14-year-old James Ingraham was an 8th-grader at Charles R. Drew Junior High in Liberty City when he got in trouble for leaving the stage in the school auditorium too slowly. He was sent to the principal's office to be paddled. He resisted. Two assistant principals were called in to hold his arms and legs, forcing him to lie face down across a table while Principal Willie J. Wright Jr. administered 20 licks with a paddle.

The paddling was so severe, the boy's mother took him to the hospital later that day and he was diagnosed with a six-inch hematoma on his butt. Seven years later, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed students' rights against a school's need to maintain control and ruled 5-4 in favor of a school's right to use corporal punishment despite parental objection. In

Ingraham v. Wright,

the court found that the 8th Amendment only protects convicted criminals from cruel and unusual punishment – not students.

Despite the decision, corporal punishment is banned today in most juvenile correction facilities in the U.S. It's been outlawed in Canada, Japan, South Africa, New Zealand and nearly all of Europe. Groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of School Psychologists and the American Medical and Bar Associations have come out against corporal punishment. Yet 20 states, including Florida, still allow it.

In 2008, 223,190 children were paddled in American schools, according to the Center for Effective Discipline, a group that opposes the practice. A recent report by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union found that students with disabilities are disproportionately affected by corporal punishment. The groups documented cases that included hitting students with a belt, a ruler, a set of rulers taped together and a toy hammer. There were also instances of pinching, slapping or striking very young children in particular; grabbing children around the arm, the neck or elsewhere with enough force to bruise; throwing children to the floor; slamming a child into a wall and dragging children across floors.

Be glad we live in South Florida. Both Miami-Dade and Broward school districts banned school spankings in 1989, when the state gave each county control over the decision. Thinking about moving to northern Florida? Get out the padded underwear.

I sympathize with teachers and school administrators because I know kids today are challenging, irritating, even infuriating. Hey, I'm a mom. I know sometimes you just want to haul off and smack 'em. But, as I keep reminding myself, I'm the adult here. I'm the one teaching the lesson. And I know how easy it is to lose control when you are really angry.

When I told my two kids I was going to write about schools paddling students, my 9-year-old asked "what's that?" She looked totally confused when I told her that some principals and teachers spank students for misbehaving. "But mom," she said, "don't you tell us that's no way to respond to a problem? That if you hit someone, that's wrong?"

Maybe she needs to appear before the Supreme Court.