Ketchikan school board candidate Robb Arnold speaks during a forum on KRBD on Sept. 20. (Eric Stone/KRBD)
Ketchikan school board candidate Robb Arnold speaks during a forum on KRBD on Sept. 20. (Eric Stone/KRBD)

A candidate for Ketchikan’s school board is looking to clarify his position on corporal punishment. Robb Arnold said during a pre-election forum on KRBD that he’s open to physical punishment in schools in limited circumstances.

At a live radio forum Sept. 20, Arnold recounted childhood memories of teachers doling out spankings. It was in response to a listener’s question asking whether Ketchikan’s school district should allow corporal punishment.

“Some of the teachers that I had, it was, like, kind of sadistic sometimes, and I didn’t think that it was appropriate for kids to get punished like that in front of the class,” he said.

But Arnold said he would support allowing principals to hit children in lower grades as part of a structured disciplinary system.

“Now, I would support a judicial corporal punishment where, as when I went into the principal’s office when I was a young kid, they put me over the principal’s knee and gave me a couple swats,” Arnold said. “I don’t agree with teachers just, you know, taking kids and doing what they want. I don’t think that’s appropriate. Now if it’s judicial, and there’s a higher authority, like a principal, and it’s done in a lower grade level where you have kids that are just — I mean, some of these classrooms, it’s like, wow, what do you do? — I think it would be appropriate.”

Separately, Arnold said in an August 25 Facebook post about a Missouri school district’s decision to allow corporal punishment, “Been there have had that that don’t know if it helps but the teach sure has control of the classroom.” (The post is no longer visible on Arnold’s page.)

All three candidates facing Arnold in the forum unequivocally condemned corporal punishment in schools.

His comments also inspired a sitting school board member, Keenan Sanderson, to write an op-ed in the online Ketchikan newspaper SitNews opposing the practice.

[Learn about the candidates, listen to forums and read up on ballot propositions in KRBD’s 2022 voter guide.]

The American Psychological Association says research indicates that corporal punishment is ineffective at teaching children right from wrong. The group says it can lead to emotional, behavioral and academic problems.

Now, Arnold says his position has been misrepresented and he’s looking to set the record straight. In an op-ed published in Monday’s SitNews and a letter to the editor in Tuesday’s Ketchikan Daily News, Arnold reiterates that he’s opposed to “teachers using paddling in any way, shape or fashion.”

He referenced the recent assault charge filed against Kevin Johnson, Ketchikan High School’s volleyball coach, who’s accused of grabbing and shoving a student athlete during a practice. Johnson has denied the allegations and is fighting them in court.

“The recent situation at our high school is something we can all disagree with, and if a teacher mishandles our students, we should call for accountability and investigation of the matter,” Arnold wrote.

He says that he believes corporal punishment at school and at home left him worse off.

“I do not think this helped me; it gave me a strong indication of boundaries in society but made me rebel more and disrespect authority. I would not wish this on any students in our schools,” he said.

While he’s clear in his letter that he opposes corporal punishment from teachers, Arnold’s letter did not address whether he remains open to allowing principals and other authority figures to physically punish Ketchikan students as part of a structured disciplinary program.

In an email on Wednesday, Arnold said the following when asked whether he stood by the comments he made at the forum.

“As I stated, I feel that no student, no matter what circumstance should be paddled or hit by principles or teachers.  I’m against it! Principals never hit me it was the teachers.  I did receive paddings and swats with a hand from the principle on my hind end,” Arnold said. 

“I hope that clears it up,” he added.

Early voting is underway now, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at Ketchikan City Hall and the White Cliff Building. Election day is Oct. 4.

Disclosure: Robb Arnold has purchased campaign underwriting announcements on KRBD. Underwriters play no role in the station’s news coverage.

This story has been updated with comments from Arnold provided after this story was first published.