Citing disproportionate use among students with disabilities, the U.S. secretary of education is calling for schools to stop relying on physical punishment to address behavior issues.

In a letter to governors and state education officials across the country, Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said corporal punishment sends the wrong message and should be halted in the 22 states where the practice is still allowed.

“School-sponsored corporal punishment is not only ineffective, it is a harmful practice, and one that disproportionally impacts students of color and students with disabilities,” King wrote in the correspondence this month. “This practice has no place in the public schools of a modern nation that plays such an essential role in the advancement and protection of civil and human rights.”

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Already, corporal punishment is banned in 28 states, but it remains widely used elsewhere.

Education Department data indicates that 110,000 students were subjected to some type of physical punishment in school during the 2013-2014 academic year. The odds of experiencing corporal punishment were consistently higher for kids with disabilities and black children, disparities that King said “shock the conscience.”

Though corporal punishment is intended to influence a child’s behavior, King said that the practice often backfires, with research suggesting that it can prompt kids to become more aggressive or oppositional and can have long-term mental health consequences.

In many cases, King said that the punishments allowed in schools would be considered criminal assault or battery if applied to adults in the very same states. What’s more, he said such practices have already been banned in U.S. prisons and military training facilities.

“While some may argue that corporal punishment is a tradition in some school communities, society has evolved and past practice alone is no justification,” King said. “No school can be considered safe or supportive if its students are fearful of being physically punished. We strongly urge states to eliminate the use of corporal punishment in schools.”

The Education Department correspondence comes as 80 organizations including the National Disability Rights Network, the Association of University Centers on Disabilities and the National Down Syndrome Congress issued a joint letter to policymakers urging similar action. The groups said that children with disabilities are often subjected to corporal punishment for exhibiting behaviors related to their special needs.

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